By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
Northeast Mississippi DUI arrests are on the rise and alcohol-related traffic fatalities are declining.
The regional trend also holds true for the state, with Mississippi no longer in the top 10 in national DUI fatality rankings. The Department of Public Safety wants to continue the trend and on Thursday kicked off a DUI enforcement campaign.
Gov. Phil Bryant and department officials announced Mississippi had 0.51 alcohol-related traffic fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010, the most recent year with complete statistics.
That number is down from 0.70 alcohol-related traffic fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009, moving Mississippi from the state with the seventh most fatalities in 2009, to the 20th in 2010.
As recently as 2004, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving statistic cited Mississippi as the national leader in alcohol-related traffic fatalities with 1.167 per 10,000 residents. The national average for 2010 was 0.45 fatalities per every 100 million miles traveled.
In an effort to keep that statistic on the decline, representatives from DPS and the Mississippi Highway Patrol are meeting with law enforcement officials around the state to ensure all agencies participate in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” campaign.
The Mississippi Highway Patrol will add 369 troopers to its regular enforcement during the campaign surrounding the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
“More people lose their lives during this 12-day stretch because of an alcohol-related crash than any other time,” said Robert Hancock, law enforcement liaison to the Division of Public Safety Planning of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, to a group of Northeast Mississippi law enforcement officials. “We ask you to step up enforcement in this time period, specifically Labor Day weekend. We’re striving for zero fatalities.”
In 2010, Mississippi recorded a record low number of traffic fatalities with 641. Of those crashes, 231 were alcohol related.
The DUI enforcement campaign will begin Friday and run until Sept. 3.
Hancock also encouraged officers to watch out not only for drunken driving, but also impaired driving.
“Now there is more impaired driving on drugs than anything,” Hancock said. “Marijuana, cocaine and pain pills. If you think someone is impaired, go ahead and pull them over to see what’s wrong. You never know, that one stop could lead to a DUI arrest that could have resulted in a vehicle crash and fatality.”
In the nine-county Highway Patrol Troop F, DUI arrests have been on the rise this year. Trooper Ray Hall, public affairs officer for Troop F, reported 853 DUI arrests have been made so far in 2012, compared to 919 in all of 2011 and 1,003 in 2010.
Counties in Troop F are Alcorn, Benton, Itawamba, Lee, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tippah, Tishomingo and Union.