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Back to Archives | Back to July 2006 Contents 

Halting Impaired Driving

By Brian A. Ursino, Assistant Chief, Washington State Patrol

ccording to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in the United States in 2004, 16,694 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol, representing 39 percent of the 42,884 people killed in all traffic crashes.

Research indicates that alcohol is not the only part of the impaired driving problem. Both prescription and illicit drugs alone or in combination with alcohol, are increasingly being found in chemical tests of at-fault drivers in fatal and injury crashes, and law enforcement is only now becoming proficient at detecting the drug-impaired driver and at collecting data that reflects the nature and extent of drug impairment in crashes.

Impaired Driving Subcommittee
At the annual IACP conference in Miami Beach in September 2005, the IACP Highway Safety Committee created the Impaired Driving Subcommittee. The subcommittee was tasked with determining how to substantially reduce impaired driving in the United States and Canada along with the traffic fatalities and injuries associated with crashes caused by impaired driving.

The subcommittee has 20 public-and private-sector members representing the IACP's diverse membership of local police chiefs and state and provincial police executives, as well as the National Sheriffs' Association, NHTSA, the Governors Highway Safety Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other stakeholders.

The subcommittee held its first meeting in November 2005, in Dallas, Texas. It developed the following mission statement to keep its members focused on the desired outcome of this project: "The IACP Highway Safety Committee's Impaired Driving Subcommittee will provide recommendations to substantially reduce impaired driving traffic fatalities and injuries through enhanced enforcement."

The subcommittee decided on two deliverables to be presented to the Highway Safety Committee at the annual IACP conference in Boston in October 2006. The first is a publication that will serve as both an impaired driving staff study and a guide to renewing efforts to eliminate impaired driving on roadways.

The second deliverable is a resolution for consideration by both the IACP and the National Sheriffs' Association. The subcommittee decided to propose a resolution, because the subcommittee supports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's position that sustained, high-visibility law enforcement is an important strategy for reducing impaired driving. The intent of the resolution is to spawn a renewed effort throughout the law enforcement community to maintain the high visibility enforcement.

The subcommittee recognizes that sustained, high-visibility enforcement also needs key supporting efforts. Toward that end, the subcommittee agreed that success lies in three key areas: law enforcement leadership, criminal justice system collaboration, and effective communication strategies. A working group was formed to explore and develop recommendations in each of these areas.

NHTSA's Campaign Theme for 2006
NHTSA activities have proven that sustained, high-visibility enforcement, coupled with focused earned media and paid advertising, results in increased safety belt use and in decreased impaired driving crashes and fatalities. In light of this, the U.S. Congress provided NHTSA with $28 million for paid advertising during the fiscal year 2006 to support state and local law enforcement activities that increase safety belt use and deter impaired driving.

NHTSA spent $10 million on paid advertising during the May 2006 Click It or Ticket law enforcement mobilization (May 22-June 4). For the 2006 Labor Day national impaired driving enforcement crackdown (August 18-September 4), it plans to spend an additional $11 million on national advertising. With the increased funding provided by the Congress, NHTSA will buy $7.9 million in advertising for impaired driving enforcement activities during the December 2006, holidays (December 15-31). This additional paid advertising in December will allow NHTSA to promote a new high-visibility enforcement tagline, which will be unveiled during the Labor Day crackdown.

State and local departments should plan their activities to coincide with and support the national effort by NHTSA.

MADD Technology Summit
Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosted an international technology symposium that brought together researchers and companies to explore current and emerging technologies that could help reduce impaired driving. Technology in law enforcement, in other components of the criminal justice system, in vehicle manufacturing, and in the aftermarket industry will also assist in achieving the goal to eliminate impaired driving and the resulting deaths and injuries. The premise is that these technologies, coupled with the renewed efforts of law enforcement, can eliminate impaired driving and save lives.

For example, several systems and applications are being developed to reduce the paperwork required to process an impaired driving suspect. Initial tests indicate that processing time can be reduced from more than four hours to less than two in processing the impaired driver. The obvious benefit is that the officer can return to the street faster and continue the visible deterrent effort. The IACP Highway Safety Committee's Technical Advisory Panel to Drug Recognition Expert Training is monitoring these systems and applications.

If the driving public knows that drug-and alcohol-impaired drivers will be apprehended, will receive swift punishment, and will be monitored for the purpose of reducing further offenses, then current negative attitudes in some segments of the driving public can be reversed. The hard-core drunk driver with a high blood alcohol concentration finally may recognize that the risk associated with drinking and driving is too great.

Emerging technology in vehicle manufacturing holds the promise of providing safety mechanisms that can ensure that drivers are alert and sober. Of course, these technologies will need the support and acceptance of the public to create a culture that no longer tolerates drinking and driving and the lives destroyed by this crime.

An Alliance
Instead of working independently toward a common goal, the IACP, NHTSA, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Governors Highway Safety Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other key stakeholders have forged an alliance and are more closely coordinating their members' efforts to eliminate impaired driving and attain the goal of zero deaths on state, provincial, tribal, county, and local highways, streets, and roadways. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 7, July 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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