By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
"You Drink & Drive. You Lose!" is an impaired-driving prevention campaign aimed at educating the public about the risks of combining alcohol/drugs and driving. The DUI crackdown by law enforcement nationwide coincides with Havre's own Sober & Safe Campaign, Dec. 15-Jan. 1.
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 protect our community. The result is making families safe and saving 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, Hill County Commission, Havre Ford, and other businesses and community members.
Montana ranks first in the nation in the rate of impaired driving-related deaths. Impaired driving is one of the most frequently 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. In 2003, 37 people in Hill County were injured in alcohol-related crashes.
Montana will be enforcing the new state law that lowered the legal blood-alcohol concentration to 0.08. BAC 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.
In addition to enforcement, the Sober & Safe Campaign includes programs like the designated driver program and alcohol server training. A designated driver will receive a mug and free soft drinks while at a local participating tavern. Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition and the HELP Committee have trained many of those who sell or serve alcohol on the topics of responsible alcohol service and sales.
On New Year's Eve, there is a service - provided courtesy of Havre Ford, Cellular One and volunteer drivers - to make free rides available for those who choose to include alcohol in their celebration. Residents can obtain packets full of information on how to host a holiday party safely and responsibly.
All drivers are substantially impaired at 0.08 BAC, especially with regard to critical driving tasks such as braking, steering, lane changing, judgment and divided attention. Keep in mind, though, 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-abiding 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.
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 driver's license, their money to 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. Intensive law enforcement typically reduces alcohol- related fatalities by at least 15 percent and saves society thousands of dollars.
In 2003, an estimated 2,173 crashes in Montana involved alcohol, which killed 97 people and injured 1,638 people. 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.