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Cities, towns hold keys to anti-drunk driving efforts.

Local government, with the support and assistance of state and federal agencies, plays a key role in battling against drunk driving. The many roles played by government -- employer, educator, law maker, law enforcer, law interpreter and community leader -- provide an ideal environment to successfully impact the problem on many levels. Combining resources with state and federal agencies who share these roles helps ease the burden on local government, while increasing effectiveness.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that an alcohol- related injury occurs every 90 seconds. An alcohol-related motor vehicle fatality occurs every 23 minutes. Two out of every five Americans can expect to be involved in an alcohol related crash.

The fact that government bears much of the $89 billion that drunk driving costs our society annually leads to the conclusion that local governments are key to reducing the costs associated with impaired driving, if only as a sound fiscal approach.

It's always important for any organization to examine its own behavior before moving out to greater constituencies. Therefore, as an employer, local governments have a responsibility to set an example by taking action to control the costs associated with all motor vehicle crashes involving employees. These include workers' compensation premiums, health insurance and property damage claims resulting from either on- or off-the-job crashes involving employees and their family members.

Many cities have already taken action by enacting safety belt use policies for employees. However, it is time to act on the importance of developing and implementing a comprehensive traffic safety program that addresses all issues, including impaired driving. The costs to implement such a program are minimal and result in significant savings.

If you need help in getting a program started, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving can provide information about NETS, the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety. This is a public/private partnership designed to assist employers with the development and implementation of low-cost comprehensive traffic safety programs in the workplace.

There is no question that a community's greatest asset is its youth. Alcohol-related traffic crashes are the number one cause of death for person aged 5 to 34. In 1990 alone, 6,354 teenagers aged 13 to 19 died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes. Even more were injured, many permanently, each year.

Montgomery County, Maryland's "Drawing the Line" program demonstrates how a coordinated community effort supported by local government can significantly impact the problems of underage drinking. Phase I of the program, a six-week effort kicked off this past May

Key to the success of the program was the coordination of efforts between the enforcement community, criminal justice system, schools and other education and service providers, as well as the private sector.

During the first six weeks of the campaign--the height of prom/graduation season--no teenage alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths occurred, for the first time in three years. Parental requests for information about teenagers and alcohol to county agencies increased 40 percent over the same time period last year.

The Board of License Commissioners, who regulate retail establishments serving alcohol, conducted sting operations on 95 stores. The 35 stores that failed to request identification from underage youth will now have to appear at a show cause hearing. During the six weeks of the campaign there were 95 police responses to 80 incidents involving parties. Sixteen citations were written at parties and 102 citations were written to persons under the age of 21.

The county is examining ways to institutionalize the program and has started planning for a second phase campaign for the fall. Programs such as "Drawing the Line" are now possible because of groundwork laid at the grassroots level by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Driving Drunk and Remove Intoxicated Drivers Working. These groups have pushed for stricter laws and stronger enforcement. These efforts have been enhanced by passage of many of the legislative recommendations of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving.

Perhaps John Fenner, Coordinator of the New Mexico Governor's Highway Safety Program said it best: "What we need now are not changes to the law. We have good DWI laws, but we need changes to make those laws work more effectively. What we need is simple: comprehensive community action. Think of a community where bartenders won't serve visibly drunk patrons, where teens can't obtain alcohol, where signs and newspapers and radio and employers and church leaders tell people that DWI is not tolerated. Where drunk drivers are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, punished for their crime, screened for alcoholism and treated for their problems. Where anyone who turns up with an alcohol problem in school, on-the-job, in an emergency room or in a domestic violence call is actively sent for help with follow up to make sure it works." Clearly such a community would have a strong handle on controlling many of the problems that stem from the abuse of alcohol.

New Mexico is one of the finest examples of state and local governments working together to address the impaired driving problem. As a state with the second highest fatality rate, 3.5 per million vehicle miles traveled, New Mexico felt a program designed for comprehensive implementation on the local level provided the best opportunity to successfully reduce the rate. A $75 fee is collected from each person convicted of drunk driving, which state officials hope will result in approximately $1 million going back to communities each year. The monies are used to assist communities in developing impaired driving programs that address prevention, enforcement, treatment and education. The state provides the tools to conduct problem identification, but emphasizes the importance of the community conducting the analysis itself and determining the appropriate response.

One of the first state coordinated models for comprehensive community action was the Massachusetts Saving Lives Program. Begun in six communities in 1988, it is now active in 25 Massachusetts communities. The program has successfully reduced fatal crashes, including single operator night crashes (those most likely to involve alcohol). Overall consumption of alcohol is down. Observed speeding 20 mph above the speed limit has been reduced and safety belt usage has increased in most of the 25 communities.

Funding for the program is the result of a cooperative effort between a private foundation, highway safety grants from the state and support from the private sector at the local level. Efforts to make the programs self-sufficient through expanded private support, user fees and community development block grants are being pursued as long-term funding solutions.

New Jersey has developed a funding program similar to New Mexico's that assists local governments in conducting a variety of drunk driving initiatives and assists municipal courts with the expenses associated with prosecuting an increased number of drunk drivers. As a state with one of the lowest fatality rates per million vehicle miles travelled -- 1.7 -- New Jersey believes comprehensive community based action holds the key to maintaining a low rate. Through a wholesale liquor tax, funding is provided to a variety of sources including prevention and education programs as well as enforcement agencies and the judiciary. Each year more than $9 million dollars is funnelled to the community level.

North Carolina's strong enforcement program is coordinated at the state level, but depends heavily upon local cooperation. "Operation Eagle" combines efforts of state troopers, local law enforcement agencies and alcohol law enforcement agents to crack down on impaired driving. By working together in targeted communities "Operation Eagle" sets up sobriety checkpoints. It also sends undercover agents into alcohol retail establishments to check for violations and identify potential drunk drivers.

In four years, the program has resulted in 2,703 charges for driving while impaired, more than 1,900 safety belt violations, more than 1,000 captures of persons driving on revoked licenses and more than 500 drug arrests.

On the national level some groups are working directly with communities to impact the problem. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Substance Abuse Prevention has just launched its community based teen drinking prevention program in eight U.S. cities. The program is designed to raise community awareness of the seriousness of the underage drinking problem.

"Drinking related injuries are the leading cause of death for young people. With this pioneering program, we are attempting to encourage local communities to create new solutions and bold action plans to prevent underage drinking and save lives," said Dr. Elaine Johnson, Acting Administrator of of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

The Century Council, a non-profit organization founded by concerned members of the alcohol industry, is working on several fronts to combat the impaired driving problem.

The Century Council has provided funding for the National League of Cities to develop a Drunk Driving Prevention Guidebook for local officials which will be ready by the end of the year.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related information about the report; Special Report: Stopping Drunk Driving
Author:Schiavone, Terrance D.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 17, 1992
Words:1466
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