Major crackdown on drunk driving in Vermont underway

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(Host) Federal Highway safety officials have identified drunk driving as their number one priority in the coming months.

Virtually every law enforcement agency in Vermont will participate in a major crackdown to keep drunk drivers off the road between now and Labor Day.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Federal officials say they are launching this multi-million dollar campaign because they’re frustrated that they aren’t making more progress in the fight to reduce drunk driving.

Between 1985 and 1995, the number of fatal accidents involving a drunk driver fell from 46 % to 36 % of all crashes.

But over the past ten years this number has barely changed and the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration has made this issue their number one priority.

Federal officials have launched a $10 million TV campaign aimed at men between the ages of 21 to 34 because this group represents the highest DUI accident category.

The Federal Traffic Safety Administration has also allocated millions of dollars to beef up local enforcement efforts in the near future.

Chuck Satterfield is a spokesperson for the Governor’s Highway Safety Commission.

He says almost every law enforcement agency in the state will be out on the road looking for drunk drivers over the next two weeks.

(Satterfield) “It’s a time Vermont normally sees a lot more drinking drivers on the road so we want to remind everybody that it’s totally unacceptable behavior. We have too many fatalities with alcohol as a factor in the crash. And we want to tell people it’s not okay to drink and drive.”

(Kinzel) Satterfield says it will be difficult to substantially increase the number of DUI arrests on a long term basis unless more resources are allocated for this purpose.

(Satterfield) “We try and get as many drinking drivers off the road as we can. We average close to 5,000 arrests for DUI every year. That’s a tremendous number of arrests. To get much higher than that would probably take additional resources.”

(Kinzel) While Vermont’s blood alcohol limit is .08, Satterfield thinks it’s important for drivers to understand that significant impairment happens at a lower level.

(Satterfield) “Your judgment is impaired at .05. You shouldn’t be driving even at .05. So judgment is the first thing to go. And it’s difficult to be behind the wheel of a ton piece of metal and trying to make eye hand coordination decisions when your judgment is impaired.”

(Kinzel) Satterfield says Vermont’s enforcement efforts will also be financed by using several hundred thousand dollars in special state funds.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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