Patrol ready for drunk drivers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2003

If you plan on getting into the holiday "spirits" tomorrow, you may want to think twice before getting behind the wheel.

This is the message the Ironton Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol is sending to people who choose to drink alcohol this New Year's Eve.

As people ring in the new year, often with liquor, beer and wine, the local patrol post will be ready, with increased patrols on Lawrence County roadways, said Lt. Carl Roark, post commander.

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"We are going to be closing out the year with all available personnel on the roadways, focusing on impaired drivers and enforcing the safety belt law," he said.

December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, and the patrol has been cracking down on impaired drivers through the statewide campaign "You Drink and Drive. You Lose." Roark said the seat belt enforcement will be in conjunction with the patrol's "What's Holding You Back?" campaign. He said both efforts aim to reduce the number of fatal and injury related crashes.

The National Center for Statistics and Analysis reported alcohol-related crashes led to 17,419 traffic fatalities in 2002. Statistically, that is 41 percent of the total traffic fatalities recorded last year. In Ohio, 482 people died in 440 alcohol-related crashes in 2002, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Roark said in order for these figures to drop, more offenders need to be removed from the roadways. He said he feels the local patrol post has had some success in accomplishing this.

"I think we are reaching the majority of the motorists in our educational efforts," he said. They know we are aggressively enforcing the law and they know we are looking for impaired drivers."

While the local patrol may have a few more traffic stops and DUI arrests on New Year's Eve statistically, the number is not higher than usual, given the higher volume of traffic during the holiday, Roark said. Many of these traffic stops, he said, do not result in arrests.

"A lot of people are utilizing designated drivers," he said. "It is not unusual to pull over a car in which all of the passengers have had too much to drink, but the driver has not been drinking. If we get that trend to continue throughout the year, we'd have a lot more success."

Many more Ohioans may be using designated drivers after the first of the year when an overhaul of the state's traffic law goes into effect. Roark said Senate Bill 123 is the biggest reform in the history of traffic law.

"It's not so much more laws are being implemented, but administrative changes in how we handle such laws as DUI and driving under suspension," Roark said. "The point system for speeding will change, too."

Even though patrols will be stepped up over the holidays, Roark said impaired motorists should be wary every day.

"Impaired driving is a crime and the Highway Patrol will continue to aggressively focus on those who commit that crime," he said. "The motorists out there need to make good decisions not only this holiday season, but also year round."