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Drunk driving down as campaign starts

August 17, 2012
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - The Labor Day Safe and Sober campaign begins today, with stepped up enforcement statewide.

However, according to figures from Martin County, local law enforcement may not be as busy.

While drunken driving rates have dropped by 25 percent statewide, Martin County has seen its rate drop by 51 percent, with the city of Fairmont seeing a 62 percent drop in the past year.

"I've never seen this in all my years of working with the Fairmont P.D.," said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. "With the projected numbers, we would see only 26 drunk driving arrests this year. I went all the way back to 1980s statistics, and there are no numbers this low."

Fairmont police and the Martin County Sheriff's Office believe the statistics are the result of enforcing drunk driving laws, the availability of a local taxi service, and society shifting its stance on drunken driving.

"We don't want there to be a perception that it's OK to drink and drive here," said Fairmont police officer Craig Fowler, who heads the local Safe and Sober campaign. "We don't want to have any of our citizens or children killed because someone's driving drunk. That's why it's called 'Toward Zero Deaths.' We can't say, 'Toward 100 Deaths,' because when it's your son or daughter, your spouse, your family member, then it's one death too many."

There were 90 drunk driving arrests in 2011 in Martin County, and there have been six drunken driving fatalities in the county from 2007-2011.

"The efforts through Safe and Sober, people are seeing the consequences," Fowler said. "People know that it's a big issue, not only by seeing us doing the enforcement, but there's a change in public perception; it's gone from being acceptable to drink and drive, to not being acceptable. It's not just the enforcement, but there's also the education with the enforcement."

There are other signs that show society is getting the message.

"In the morning, I'm seeing more vehicles in the parking lot by the bars than I used to," Fowler said. "People are getting rides home now instead of driving drunk."

Along with targeting impaired drivers, the current law enforcement saturation campaign will stop vehicles for other traffic violations, such as the seat belt law and the Ted Foss "Move Over" law.

"With our state stats, the 75 percent of the drunk drivers killed are not wearing seatbelts," Fowler said.

The move over law requires vehicles to move to the lane of traffic farthest from a stopped vehicle. But the move over law is not only for law enforcement or emergency vehicles, but also for Department of Transportation maintenance vehicles, tow trucks and city utility vehicles. If a vehicle has its flashing lights activated, the move over law applies.

"It's the one thing I want to emphasize on this enforcement," said Martin County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Vasvick said. "And if you aren't able to move over into the second lane, then you need to slow down."

The Safe and Sober enforcement is going on from now until Labor Day, Sept. 3. However, both Fairmont police and the sheriff's office hope to see the downward trend for drunk driving arrests continue.

"We couldn't do this without the public support," Fowler said. "No one agency could have this kind of result, and we hope that we continue to see it decline, toward zero deaths."



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