‘Strikeforce’ set to fight DUIs

Published 12:11 am Saturday, December 31, 2016

Law enforcement officers throughout Virginia have been preparing for a holiday statistically synonymous with drunk driving.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 43.5 percent of all U.S. New Year’s Day traffic fatalities between 2010 and 2015 involved a driver with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit of .08.

“The fact that alcohol-related deaths and injuries on Virginia’s highways are decreasing is encouraging, but we still need all drivers to get the message,” said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Drunk driving isn’t a victimless crime. You could kill yourself or someone else, or get a DUI and go to jail. We need every driver to make smart, safe and sober decisions.”

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As part of the Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign, administered by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ Highway Safety Office and local and state law enforcement agencies throughout Virginia, DUI enforcement efforts have increased in December.

Virginia State Police and local law enforcement plan to conduct or have conducted an estimated 98 sobriety checkpoints and 763 saturation patrols from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, according to DMV officials.

“On average and since 2010, over 43 percent of all U.S. highway deaths on New Year’s involve drunk drivers,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Virginia-based nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program, the project director of Virginia’s Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign.

“And this month through New Year’s Day, the net around drunk drivers in Virginia has never been tighter.”

Penalties for even a first-time DUI conviction in Virginia include mandatory ignition interlock installation on the offender’s vehicle, as well as fines up to $ 2,500, suspension periods up to one year and jail sentences also up to one year.

Started in 2002, Virginia’s Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign is part of a research-based multi-state, zero-tolerance initiative designed to get impaired drivers off the roads using checkpoints and patrols along with education about the dangers and consequences of driving while intoxicated.

While aiming to reach all potential drunk drivers, the statewide enforcement and education campaign specifically focuses on males aged 21 to 35, a demographic representing nearly a third of all persons killed in Virginia’s alcohol-related traffic crashes last year.

Virginia’s 2016 Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign also includes a preventative, multimedia campaign celebrating the “beauty” of designated sober drivers.

Approximately 35,000 campaign ads were set to run on nearly 70 television, cable and radio stations in Virginia, along with movie theater and digital advertising.

The television spots state that “Nothing’s more beautiful than a safe ride home” whether in a cab, via public transportation, with a sober friend or through a transportation network company such as Uber or Lyft.

A survey conducted in Support of the campaign this summer found that while designating a driver was the top answer as to how 21-35 year olds “plan a safe ride home,” less than two-thirds of the 1,000 men in that group frequently plan ahead for said safe ride home.

Virginia’s Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign is supported by a grant from DMV, the Virginia Highway Safety Office to the nonprofit and Virginia-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program.