DUI campaign starts Friday

Law enforcement officers from six counties were in New Albany Thursday to emphasize the danger of drinking and driving.

The event at Taylor’s Restaurant was the formal kickoff of this year’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” DUI campaign, hosted by the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety. The program begins Friday, Aug. 15, and ends Sept. 1,

Sherman Police Chief Joel Spellins, who is liaison with MOSH and emceed the program, said that more than 10,000 people died in impaired driving crashes in 2012, about one every 51 minutes. These deaths accounted for 31 percent of the total traffic fatalities in the U. S., he said.

Over the past five years, Union County has ranked 32nd-highest in the state in terms of alcohol-related fatalities where the driver’s blood-alcohol level was .08 or greater.

In our area, Lee County was ninth-highest, Itawamba was 26th, Pontotoc was 31st, Prentiss was 42nd and Tishomingo was 48th.

Starting Oct. 1, officers will have a new tool in the war against alcohol-related crashes and injuries. The Mississippi legislature passed a bill that in some cases will allow the installation of in ignition interlock device in the cars of DUI offenders. Before the car can be started, the driver will have to exhale into the device and if alcohol is detected it will prevent the car from being started.

More information about the law will be available soon.

Also on the program, Office of Highway Safety Division Director Twyla Jennings gave officers updates on several grant and awards programs. Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative Sherrel Clark from Monroe County talked about how she lost four different family members to alcohol-related crashes in only a year and a half. Clark also talked about the difficulty in getting help. “I’m only one person,” she said. “It’s hard to get anybody interested enough to help. Law enforcement is doing its job,” but the leniency of courts is frustrating to her.

Officers from the Union County Sheriff’s Department and New Albany Police Department were among those present and those two offices are expected to have special DUI and seatbelt-related initiatives later in the year, particularly around holiday periods. Mark Cossitt is the New Albany Police Department DUI officer.