Highway Patrol gearing up for Labor Day DUI crack down

COLUMBIA, SC (SCDPS) - Motorists who choose to drive while intoxicated during the weeks leading up to the Labor Day holiday will be the focus of an intense statewide crackdown on impaired driving by the SC Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies.

Drunk driving remains a leading cause of deaths on South Carolina roadways, even though traffic fatalities so far this year are falling behind last year's totals and seat belt usage is at a record high. Reducing DUI-related crashes and fatalities is the focus of the Sober or Slammer! Labor Day enforcement blitz that will run from Aug. 20 through Sept. 6.

"DUI is an epidemic," SCDPS Director Mark Keel told a group of law enforcement officials who gathered in Columbia from around the state Monday.

Representatives of the SC Law Enforcement Network received an update on the status of South Carolina's traffic enforcement efforts since Memorial Day – when state and local agencies launched the 100 Deadly Days of Summer enforcement blitz on drunk driving and safety belt usage that culminates Labor Day. The meeting also served to kick off the Sober or Slammer! Labor Day DUI crackdown.

As of midnight Aug. 15, there have 136 fatalities in the first 77 days of the 100 Deadly Days of Summer, Keel noted. That compares to 223 fatalities in the same number of days in 2009. That reduction equates to a 39 percent decrease in highway fatalities from a similar time frame from last year.

"DUI is a careless disregard for human life. DUI is a crime," Keel told the officers. "And we can all be crime fighters; not just men and women in uniform. Concerned citizens who call *HP to report a drunk drivers are fighting crime, just as a sober person who says to an intoxicated friend, 'I'll take the keys tonight.'"

The SC Highway Patrol has made 9,535 arrests so far this year for driving under the influence – a 17 percent increase over the previous year and a 41 percent increase compared to this time in 2008. In addition to Patrol's DUI arrest numbers, data received through July 31, from SC Law Enforcement Network reporting agencies indicates that local law enforcement agencies participating in the SCLEN statewide have made 7,199 DUI arrests.

Highway Patrol Col. Kenny Lancaster, Jr. pointed to several reasons people are more likely now to get caught driving impaired: an enforcement focus on areas leading away from bars and other establishments serving predominantly alcoholic beverages; the creation of a 30-member DUI team focused solely on impaired driving; frequent special enforcement initiatives with the SCLEN and other local agencies; and getting the public involved in looking out for impaired driving behaviors.

"I believe when you involve people and give them the tools to make their communities and roadways safer – such as *HP – they feel a sense of partnership and duty," Lancaster said. "Also, our strong partnerships and multi-jurisdictional enforcement efforts with local law enforcement agencies have been a driving force in bringing down fatality numbers and increasing DUI arrests."

SC Department of Natural Resources Colonel Alvin Taylor echoed SCDPS' concerns regarding boating tragedies associated with alcohol consumption. SCDNR is partnering with SCDPS during the 100 Deadly Days of Summer to reduce the occurrences of boating under the influence and its subsequent contribution to DUI violations.

Officers in attendance at the meeting also viewed a new TV commercial that will support the DUI enforcement efforts. The commercial begins airing Wednesday on South Carolina TV stations, in advance of the end-of-summer Sober or Slammer! DUI enforcement blitz that starts Friday.

"Even if you beat the odds and survive an impaired-driving crash," Keel said, "be aware that the consequences of driving drunk can still place a heavy burden – financially and otherwise – on you and your family."

That is the message behind the latest anti-DUI commercial by SCDPS. Produced by the agency's public relations firm, Fisher Communications, the 60-second commercial is a dramatic telling of a DUI arrest and how citizens might aid law enforcement in DUI apprehension efforts. The ad encourages the public to report suspected drunk drivers by calling *HP (*47) and illustrates how a call to the Highway Patrol dispatch center leads to an arrest.

The commercial builds upon the "Call *HP (*47)" billboards that are posted around the state and feature the face of a state trooper.

In addition to the new commercial and billboards, SCDPS will use the SC Department of Transportation's variable message boards to remind motorists of the DUI crackdown. The boards also were used during this summer's safety belt campaign that ended with a record-setting safety belt usage rate of 85.4 percent. This is the first time South Carolina topped the current national rate of 84 percent.

"Our partnership with the SCDPS has raised public awareness of highway safety issues and has, we feel, contributed to these roadway successes," SC Department of Transportation Secretary H. B. Limehouse said.

The previous state record for safety belt use of 81.5 percent was set last year when the total number of fatalities fell below 900 for the first time since 1995. Highway safety officials hope the new record-setting usage rate will result in an even deeper drop in traffic deaths this year. Fatality reductions year-to-date for 2010 are currently hovering around 19 percent fewer than those experienced in 2009. As of August 15, 2010, preliminary statistics show South Carolina has experienced 108 fewer fatalities than in the same time period for 2009 – 569 fatalities in 2009 compared to 461 fatalities in 2010.

"It's no secret that safety belts save lives," Keel said. "In fact, a safety belt is your first and best defense against the reckless behavior of a drunk driver. So buckle up, drive responsibly, report drunk drivers by calling *HP and we'll do our part."

SCDPS' Sober or Slammer! campaign is part of the national Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest. crackdown led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and includes state and local law enforcement agencies across the country. The campaign combines high-visibility enforcement with heightened public awareness through advertising and publicity.

SCDPS includes the Highway Patrol, Office of Highway Safety, State Transport Police, Bureau of Protective Services and Office of Justice Programs. The agency's mission is to ensure public safety by protecting and serving South Carolina residents and visitors.