OUR OPINION: ‘Drive Sober…’ emphasis ramps up for holidays

Mississippi’s long, continuing effort to eliminate DUI deaths intensifies during the alcohol-spiked holiday season with a program called “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” an effort to demonstrate the consequences of “buzzed” driving as a violation of state law and endangerment to every driver and all passengers, plus others on the roads.

Heightened enforcement started Friday in the Highway Patrol’s Troop F region with a zero tolerance policy for those found to be driving with illegal blood alcohol content.

Troop F is comprised of Benton, Tippah, Alcorn, Tishomingo, Prentiss, Union, Pontotoc, Lee and Itawamba counties. Participating law enforcement agencies’ representatives discussed the plans Thursday in a lunch meeting in Sherman.

The keynote speaker was Casey Wood of Sherman, the mother of Brendon Wood, who died in early summer after sustaining injuries in a drinking-driving related accident on Endville Road west of Belden. He was the passenger in a car whose driver has been charged with DUI death. The accident happened two days after Wood graduated from high school.

The hard facts of underage alcohol consumption frequently involve celebratory situations in which several or all in a vehicle may have been drinking illegally.

The Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over enforcement period hammers home the point that following the law is safer than disobeying it.

Mississippi’s DUI-related deaths had declined for several years before 2012, which saw a reversal and climb in the number of DUI fatalities. The enforcement period means officers will be vigilant and looking more intently than usual for alcohol impairment, then initiating legal consequences.

Most people can get over the legal consequences of DUI driving if other criminal charges aren’t involved, and if the buzzed driving stops.

Living with the consequences of drunk driving, including injuries and deaths of other people, is another situation.

Vigilance does not come without additional costs. Increased patrols almost always involve more overtime, a situation most agencies seek to avoid because budgets are tight. Yet, the heightened enforcement offers opportunities for law enforcement to seek overtime grants that offset costs to local and state taxpayers.

Preventing DUIs and all the consequences requires cooperation from parents, law enforcement, and drivers of every age. Much more is at stake than one night on the town and believing that driving with a little too much to drink does not involve negative effects except for someone else.