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Drunk Driving Prevention

To save lives this holiday season, attack drunk driving at the source.

November 30, 2009  |  by Joseph Petrocelli - Also by this author

Playing Percentages

The fact of the matter is that any drunken driving reduction program based solely on enforcement is bound to fail. Apprehending and properly processing a drunk driver is a huge strain on limited law enforcement resources. Certainly at any time there are many more drunk drivers on the road than there are police officers, who are also saddled with competing priorities that do not allow total concentration on the drunk driving effort.

Some experts estimate that police only apprehend about one percent of drunk drivers. To formulate an effective drunk driving reduction program, ascertain the extent of the problem and try to locate "hot-spots" where minimum resources can best be deployed.

Do the research. Find out how many alcohol-related crashes occur in the jurisdiction. Has the number of alcohol-related crashes increased or decreased in recent years? What accounts for these changes? Is alcohol the sole cause or are there other major factors such as weather, seat belt use, or roadway design? What is the average blood alcohol concentration of the drivers involved in the crashes? What specific motor vehicle offense (speeding, disregard of a traffic signal, seat belt) is the precursor offense to the alcohol-related crashes? You should also try to isolate the days of the week and specific hours when most crashes occur.

Answering these questions will help you decide if sobriety checkpoints will reduce drunk driving incidents. These checkpoints are much more effective when specific locations of crashes are identified. Sobriety checkpoints are labor intensive but have been shown to reduce alcohol-related crashes by 15 percent to 25 percent. Usually there are legal ramifications for setting up a checkpoint; the police will obviously need to consult counsel.

If specific offenses are determined to be the causes of crashes, a roving patrol may be more effective. Either way, you should receive specialized training on identifying impaired drivers. Some research indicates that officers are not that good at detecting drunk drivers; one report found that police failed to detect signs of impairment in 50 percent of legally drunk drivers.

Educate the Public

Get a sense of the general public's concern about drunk driving. Many times there is a cultural perception that drunk driving is not a major problem. Some communities perceive alcohol as a form of entertainment and driving as a form of entertainment. When these two forms of entertainment meet, the results are deadly.

You can change this perception by engaging in a public awareness campaign. Generate estimates of the total economic cost to the community for alcohol-related crashes. Besides the raw number of those injured or killed in alcohol-related crashes, this estimate can include property damage, medical costs, insurance premium increases, and lost wages. A complete picture of the true cost of drunk driving will begin to change the perception in some communities.

Look internally to see if the drunk driving arrest process can be expedited. Traditionally, processing a drunk driving arrest is a cumbersome process, where many procedural hurdles must be overcome. Get help from special police officers or civilians to assist in the arrest process thereby keeping more sworn officers on the street.

Saturate the Area

There is no drunk driving arrest program that could ever net every drunk. What you must strive to do is create a perception among drunk drivers that they will be apprehended. Most drunk drivers realize there is a very low chance of apprehension; general enforcement is a very small deterrent. You must create a perception of targeted enforcement.

To do this, saturate the area where a number of bars are located. Officers on foot or bicycle patrol are an omnipresent reminder to drinkers that the police are nearby. Set up field stations around bars where breath tests are given for free. This will enhance the image of the police and warn drunks that you are serious about enforcement.

Create a saturation patrol on the arteries leading to and from major drinking locations. The officers assigned to the saturation patrol should be proactive, stopping as many cars as possible. This will create a primary deterrence to the person being stopped but also create an atmosphere of secondary deterrence as other motorists drive by and realize their chance of getting stopped is high.

Officers on the saturation patrol should be armed with preliminary breath testing devices. Though the results of these devices are not typically admissible in court, they will aid officers in making quick determinations about intoxicated drivers. The devices are small, portable, and easy to operate.

Enforcement should be a small part of the overall effort to reduce drunk driving. Embark on a year-long campaign to show the deadly effects of impaired driving. Only by changing the cultural perceptions and the social norms of a community will you be able to truly impact drunk driving.

Det. Joseph Petrocelli is a 20-year veteran of New Jersey law enforcement. You can comment on this article, suggest other topics, or reach the author by e-mailing POLICE Magazine at Editor@PoliceMag.com.

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Tags: Drunk Driving, Patrol Response, Holiday Crimes


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