By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana
he U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has partnered with a number of organizations to reduce impaired-driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities during the Labor Day holiday period. The 2008 Impaired Driving National Enforcement Crackdown takes place August 15–September 1.
Unquestionably, the NHTSA’s most important partners in this crackdown campaign are the law enforcement officers on the street. The 2008 campaign’s central message is simple: “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.” The tagline for the promotional materials is, “Cops are cracking down.”
Support for this special enforcement period is critical to convince the public that the decision to drive while impaired carries a real threat of detection and arrest. Although the NHTSA and its partners can develop and deliver high-quality messages to increase public awareness of that threat, these messages can change driver behavior only if officers and deputies are aggressively and effectively detecting impaired drivers and arresting them.
In any enforcement action, it is important to select an effective strategy. Among the most effective enforcement methods for impaired driving are high-visibility saturation patrols. The impact of this strategy can be increased when executed in cooperation with neighboring agencies in areas where impaired driving is worst. Statistically speaking, these efforts are most effective between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m., when data show fewer driving trips but when nearly half of all impaired-driving fatalities take place.
Checkpoints (if permitted by state law), safety checks, and enforcement zones are also good choices to support a local agency’s enforcement strategy. Checkpoints can be conducted for agencies with standard staffing available, but the NHTSA also offers guidelines for low-staffing checkpoints. These strategies create the highest visibility between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Assistance Available Online
Agencies can also generate public support for their efforts by letting the community know what they are doing and why. At the campaign Web site (www.stopimpaireddriving.org) visitors will find sample press releases, talking points, and editorial suggestions. These resources help to keep the local media informed and can be used year-round.
The materials available on the Web site allow agencies to use a variety of communication forums to get their message to their audiences. There are several eye-catching print advertisements with the campaign message suitable for use in local newspapers, as posters, or on agency Web sites. Also available are downloadable television and radio public service announcements.
Talking points on the Web site are appropriate for use during media interviews or as the main points of speeches to civic clubs and organizations. Chiefs and public information officers should remember to outline the problem (too many people are dying in preventable crashes) and offer solutions (strict enforcement; “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”). Taken from the NHTSA materials, here are a few of those talking points that can be used throughout the year:
- All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have established a threshold making it illegal per se to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher.
- Nearly 13,500 people in 2006 were killed in U.S. highway crashes involving a driver or motorcycle rider with an illegal BAC of .08 or higher, according to NHTSA statistics.
- Impaired driving is a crime, not an “accident.” In fact, it’s one of the most often committed and deadliest crimes in the United States.
- The message is simple and unwavering: Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.
- No matter what you drive or when, if we catch you driving while impaired, we will arrest you. No exceptions.
- Fortunately, many of the tragedies that result from impaired-driving crashes can be prevented if everyone follows these safety recommendations:
- If you are planning to drink alcohol with friends, designate a sober driver before going out—and give that person your keys.
- If you are impaired, do not drive—call a taxi, use mass transit, or call a sober friend or family member to get you home safely.
- Take advantage of your community’s Sober Rides program.
- Promptly report impaired drivers you see on the roadways to law enforcement agencies.
- Wear your seat belt while in a car or use a helmet and protective gear when on a motorcycle, as these are your best defenses against an impaired driver.
- And remember, if you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys—and help them get to where they are going safely.
The 2008 Impaired Driving National Enforcement Crackdown will last only a few weeks. However, the community impact will extend well beyond the lives that are saved; it will establish a solid combination of public education and enforcement. Readers are encouraged to use these materials not only during the campaign but in speeches and interviews throughout the year. ■