By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
Every December, law enforcement throughout Montana joins a nationwide crackdown on impaired drivers.
"You Drink & Drive. You Lose!" is an impaired-driving prevention campaign aimed at educating the public about the risks of combining alcohol or drugs and driving. The DUI crackdown by law enforcement nationwide coincides with Havre's own Sober and Safe Campaign, Dec. 19 through Jan. 4. Montana law enforcement, and more specifically, our local law enforcement, will join more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies and thousands of traffic-safety advocates throughout the United States to prevent impaired driving. They will be out there in force, conducting saturation patrols throughout Montana to arrest and prosecute those criminals who choose to drink and drive.
The main goal of the effort is to save lives. Organizers want more people to think twice about getting behind the wheel after they've had too much to drink. In addition to law enforcement, Havre area advocates include the HELP Committee, DUI Task Force, Hill County Tavern Association, Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition, Havre Ford, and other businesses and community members.
Montana will be enforcing the newly passed 0.08 law lowering the legal BAC level to 0.08. The BAC, or blood alcohol concentration, is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in a person's body. Research has shown that 0.08 BAC "per se" laws have reduced fatal crashes involving drivers with high and low BACs by about 8 percent.
Montana ranks second in the nation for the rate of impaired driving-related deaths. Impaired driving is one of the most often committed crimes, randomly killing someone every 30 minutes and injuring someone every two minutes nationwide. That means that any of us or our family or friends are at risk of being an innocent victim.
All drivers are substantially impaired at 0.08 BAC, especially with regard to critical driving tasks such as braking, steering, lane changing, judgment, and attention. Keep in mind, though, that alcohol is not the only substance that can impair drivers. Many drugs, including over-the-counter and prescription medications, may cause side effects that make it unsafe to drive.
As a community we all support law enforcement efforts to protect us from theft, burglary, assault and terrorism. Yet, many otherwise law-biding citizens continue to view impaired driving merely as a traffic offense. Don't be fooled. Impaired driving is no accident nor is it a victimless crime. Impaired driving is one of the most often committed crimes, randomly killing someone in America every 30 minutes and nearly 50 people a day. That means you, your family or friends are just as likely to be innocent victims.
There are consequences for impaired drivers. Violators are criminals and they are at high risk of being caught, prosecuted and punished. They can lose their licenses, as well as money in high fines and court costs, and possibly face imprisonment for repeat offenses, assault and vehicular manslaughter. Each year, 1.5 million arrests are made nationally.
Montana law enforcement is serious about taking impaired drivers off the road. In fact, they intend to sustain a level of heightened enforcement beyond the holiday period. The intensive law enforcement typically reduces alcohol-related fatalities by at least 15 percent and saves society thousands of dollars.
In 2000, an estimated total of 13,500 crashes in Montana involved alcohol, causing 110 fatalities and injuring an estimated 4,600 people. That same year the cost of alcohol-related crashes cost Montana an estimated $700 million. The average alcohol-related fatality costs $3.4 million and the estimated cost per injured survivor is $96,000.
The holiday season is one of the deadliest times of the year when it comes to impaired drivers. The best defense against alcohol- impaired drivers is to wear your safety belt and be sure children are properly secured in child safety seats.
Don't risk driving impaired. Plan ahead. Choose a sober designated driver before you go out. Remember, You Drink & Drive. You Lose!
For information about hosting responsibly, the designated driver program, or ways to help prevent impaired driving, call the HELP Committee at 265-6206.