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What's a mayor to do? Allentown leader finds a solution.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, founded in 1762, is located 53 miles northwest of Philadelphia, 92 miles southwest of New York City, and 81 miles east of the State Capital, Harrisburg. It is the County Seat of Lehigh County. Allentown has earned "All-America City" awards twice. However, a few years ago, the City also had a deadly serious problem-- a problem that was claiming the lives of young and old -- a problem that seemed to be getting worse -- the problem was drunk drivers.

Fortunately, Allentown and Lehigh County also had a lot of concerned people who were not going to tolerate this problem any longer. A Mayor can be a great catalyst for positive action. So, with the assistance of the Allentown Health Bureau, these individuals were brought together to form a group called the Allentown/Lehigh County DUI Advisory Task Force, later to be called the DUI Advisory Council. What this group of more than 60 dedicated. individuals from all walks of life has accomplished in just four years is more than any Mayor could have ever hoped and prayed for.

In 1986, Lehigh County was ranked 13th highest in population out of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it was also ranked 4th highest in the number of DUI-related motor vehicle crashes, averaging nearly two per day! While at the same time we were among the lowest in number of arrests for DUI offenses. The area desperately needed to increase community awareness about drinking and driving's deadly mix. The existing public information and education efforts were often short-term, focusing primarily on high-risk occasions such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was no comprehensive plan to attack the problem year long. Now less than six years later, the success of our program speaks for itself. From 1986 to 1990, Lehigh County has achieved a 40% decrease in alcohol-related fatalities, a 72% decrease in DUI-related motor vehicle crashes and a 46% increase in DUI arrests.

Although we had no comprehensive plan back in 1986, the County did have the resources, talent, personnel and commitment to address this problem. There were then, and still are, many active and effective individual programs offering drinking and driving prevention, education and intervention services. What was needed, however, was a facilitator to acquaint all of these individual programs, to identify gaps in service and education, to create a network of knowledge and ideas, and to coordinate a comprehensive, consistent and multi-faceted approach to the destructive problem of driving under the influence. What was needed was a DUI Task Force.

Appointing Task Forces -- that's something mayors are good at -- to help solve problems and meet needs that can not be met with just the limited resources of city government alone. (I suggest that mayors agree to serve as Honorary Chair of the Task Forces they create.)

Essential to the creation and vitality of any task force is the involvement of individuals whose experience, education and expertise will blend together effectively with a clear purpose and direction. So, the first step to creating a DUI Task Force was to identify the area's "key" people. An employee of the Allentown Health Bureau coordinated this effort and sought representation from community leaders, City and County officials, Lehigh County's DA's office and Adult Probation Department, law enforcement, school administration and instructors, local Red Cross, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, prevention councils, local SADD/MADD groups, business and industry, medical representatives, community citizens, the media, insurance companies, automobile dealers and the hospitality industry.

During the first and subsequent meetings of the Advisory Council, several initiatives were taken. The group of volunteers was divided into committees, each with a special focus. Our committees were: Community and Industry; Education; Judicial, Law Enforcement and Treatment; Public Information and Education; and Responsible Beverage Servers. After the members selected the committee on which they wanted to serve, each committee needed to assess what was currently being done in the field of drinking and driving prevention, education and intervention. This assessment is crucial in developing a course of action for each committee.

At this early stage, it was important to search for what "should" be done to fight DUI. The pragmatic of what "can" be done should be determined at subsequent meetings. From this point on, all the work was done at the committee level. A chairperson for each committee was chosen, specific objectives were outlined, and meetings were held as often as deemed necessary (usually on a monthly basis). Quarterly meetings of the entire Council are held to keep the membership informed of all activities being implemented. The Health Bureau's DUI Program Coordinator is responsible for the coordination of the committees and the quarterly meetings.

Some accomplishments of Allentown's DUI Advisory Council include:

Community and Industry Committee: This committee is becoming increasingly active as businesses become more aware of how DUI affects their bottom line. The Committee developed a sample drug and alcohol policy for the workplace and an educational DUI handbook for businesses. They continue to sponsor an annual campaign, targeted towards those employees who attend happy hours, which promotes the designated driver program establishments. The committee also conducts the annual DUI Red Ribbon Campaign during the holidays.

Education Committee: The "Here's Looking At You 2000", a nationally recognized curriculum, was distributed in 1988 to the 10 school districts in the County. A Collegiate Mock Cocktail Challenge is held each year, encouraging alternatives to alcohol drinks on campuses. The focus of this event is to provide a night of dancing and games to prove to the students that they can have a good time without alcohol. An Annual Peer Leadership Conference is sponsored for high school students to instill confidence among student leaders. Peer pressure is such a strong force in today's schools that we decided to use it to our advantage. The Education Committee also augments student assistance programs and SADD Chapters by providing informational materials, posters, buttons and statistical data.

Judicial, Law Enforcement and Legislative Committee: This committee distributed portable breath testing devices to local police departments, and continually advocates relevant legislation. Work continues toward establishing a Victim's Impact Panel for the County. In addition, the Allentown Police Department recently received State funding to implement sobriety checkpoints and speed "blitzes."

Public Information and Education Committee: This committee sponsors the Annual Zero-Proof Mix-off which is a public mock cocktail contest that stresses the importance of being a responsible party host. The committee conducts press conferences and other activities for National Drunk and Drugged Driver Awareness Week in December and promotes an annual Labor Day Weekend Public Awareness Campaign.

Responsible Beverage Servers Committee: To date, more than 2,000 alcohol beverage servers have been trained in the T.I.P.S. Responsible Server Training Program, and more than 70 licensed beverage serving establishments participate in the Designated Driver Program.

The DUI Advisory Council is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and administered through the City's Bureau of Health. It remains just one part of the Health Bureau's Comprehensive Highway Safety Program which is designed to address all aspects of safety on our roadways. Although initiated with State monies, the DUI Advisory Council is designed to eventually shift to community ownership. There are many indications that this shift of ownership is occurring, but often in subtle ways. For example, after the initial purchase and distribution of the "Here's Looking at you 2000" curriculum, the school district administrations have realized the value of the curriculum. If the police departments need more portable breath testing devices, they request the purchase from in its budgets. Many of the programs initiated and/or funded by the Advisory Council have become entrenched into the design and structure of existing community programs. AAA-Le-high Valley, for example, has become a primary sponsor of the Annual Zero-Proof Mix-off.

What does the future hold for the DUI Advisory Council? Innovative, consistent campaigns and activities to continue in its fight against DUI. The area's statistics are gratifying, but nothing is more satisfying to a Mayor than seeing first hand the positive results of a community-wide effort to solve a serious problem. Yet we can not and will not rest on our laurels. With the help of the $20,000 Century Council 1st Place Award, we are already planning ways to improve even more on these statistics. Our DUI Advisory Council and I will not be satisfied fully until there are no more DUI crashes in Allentown! Someday we will achieve that. So can you and your City. Good Luck!
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Stopping Drunk Driving; Allentown, Pennsylvania
Author:Daddona, Joseph S.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 17, 1992
Words:1412
Previous Article:Cities, towns hold keys to anti-drunk driving efforts.
Next Article:Finding funds for drunk driving initiatives.
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