Waging war on drunk drivers

Waging war on drunk drivers

October 3rd, 2011 in Opinion Times

It's both sad and predictable that drunk drivers in Tennessee are responsible for much of the carnage on the state's highways and other roads. They cause, on average, about 30 percent of the state's traffic deaths and they are involved in a large number of non-fatal crashes. The resultant toll is high. About 300 people, for example, were killed in alcohol-related crashes on state roads last year.

That, of course, is far too many, and the effort to reduce the number of DUI-related incidents and deaths on the state roads is on-going. It involves multiple law enforcement agencies and other organizations, and is demonstrably effective. There have been fewer alcohol-related deaths so far on state roads this year than in the same time period last year. The effort continues.

Many groups and agencies are involved in anti-DUI campaigns. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for instance, remains a stalwart in the effort. Local and county law enforcement officials have stepped up DUI enforcement through the use of sobriety checkpoints and expanded holiday patrols. The Tennessee Highway Patrol, though, is involved in what is likely the most visible and effective anti-DUI campaign in the state. The numbers tell the story.

The number of drunken-driving arrests on the state's highways is up 39 percent through Sept. 29 compared to the same period in 2010. Last year, the agency reported 2,474 arrests; this year 3,434 have been recorded. It can hardly be coincidental that the increase in arrests has produced a 14 percent drop in Tennessee this year.

The THP campaign has been especially effective in the tri-state region. The number of DUI arrests through Sept., 29 in Hamilton County increased from 21 last year to 38 this year; from 22 to 39 in Bradley County; from 32 to 58 in Marion County; from 13 to 40 in Rhea County; from 14 to 28 in Sequatchie County; from 47 to 75 in McMinn County; from 9 to 14 in Grundy County and from 2 to 6 in Meigs County.

Only Polk County showed a decline, from 12 arrests in 2010 to 8 through Sept. 29. A THP spokesman said there have been no arrests by troopers in Bledsoe County.

The THP's high-profile DUI campaign is, excuse the expression, no accident. Col. Tracy Trott, who assumed command of the agency last year, has made DUI enforcement a top priority for troopers.

"I think it's the most important thing that we [THP] do as an organization," he told a Nashville reporter. "If you arrest a drunk driver, you possibly have saved someone's life ..."

Trott says troopers will continue to emphasize DUI arrests because they save lives. That does not mean, however, that other moving violations on the state's roads will be ignored. Troopers will concentrate a bit more on stopping those whose actions behind the wheel -- DUI, reckless driving, aggressive driving, etc. -- pose a threat to others. That's certainly an acceptable strategy.