By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Local and state law enforcement agencies want to decrease DUI deaths this holiday season.
From now through Jan. 3, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and local police and sheriff’s deputies will be out in force looking for impaired drivers in the MHP’s Over the Limit, Under Arrest campaign.
These heightened efforts, which generally occur around holidays, appear to be having an impact.
Even though DUI arrest numbers have fluctuated every year since 2007, DUI deaths have steadily gone down.
“We do these types of campaigns a couple times a year and they have been very useful tools to protect the public from drunk drivers,” said Troop F Patrolman Ray Hall, based in New Albany. “We are arresting more drunk drivers every year, but we are having less people to be killed by drunk drivers and that’s the whole point of these campaigns.”
In 2007, there were nearly 7,000 DUI arrests statewide, 8,600 in 2008, 7,600 in 2009 and so far about 7,000 this year.
But in 2007, there were 884 DUI deaths statewide, 783 in 2008, 706 in 2009 and so far 506 this year. According to MHP spokesman Jon Kalahar, 2010 numbers are expected to be the lowest ever.
These totals represent numbers for the whole year and not just during holidays.
The Over the Limit, Under Arrest holiday blitz is a nationwide campaign to educate the public on the dangers of drinking and driving. It is made possible through a federal grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as state and local law enforcement working together to keep Mississippi’s roads safe.
Albert Santa Cruz, director of MHP, said he believes the message is sinking in with people who drive while drunk.
“If you drink you will go to jail, or worse, you could cause serious injuries or even kill another driver simply because you made a bad decision,” he said.
Tupelo Police Department’s DUI unit will be out in force the next couple weeks.
Lt. Marty Mask said the department will do much of the same things as the state agencies, but also will focus on nightclub areas during the holidays.
“Of course, there will be more manpower, more safety checkpoints and just more of an overall emphasis of getting drunk drivers off the streets,” said Mask. “But we will also go into residential and other areas as well. This is something that benefits the drunk drivers and the potential victims out there on the roads. Getting them off the streets is better for everyone.”
Although the Lee County Sheriff’s Department does not have the manpower to beef up patrols, safety checkpoints will be used to keep drunken drivers off the roads.
“We will strategically place safety checkpoints in areas where we feel will be high traffic areas,” said Sheriff Jim Johnson. “We plan to use the resources we have to make this a safe holiday season on all of our county roads. We will be out looking for drunken drivers so we can get them off the roads.”
Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Simpson said drunken driving will not be tolerated.
“We want families and friends to enjoy the holiday season and arrive at their destinations safely,” said Simpson.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.