NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Local police are taking part in a nationwide "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign that will coincide with the Labor Day holiday, a time when people traditionally celebrate as summer winds down.
Through Sept. 3
The campaign kicked off on Aug. 16 and will run through Sept. 3, according to Bennington Police Lt. Lloyd Dean. He said the Vermont State Police, Bennington County Sheriff’s Department and other local municipal agencies are taking part in the campaign. Additional law enforcement officers will be on the streets day and night looking for impaired drivers, he said.
More than 10,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country are taking part in the national, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Dean said local police will be conducting saturation patrols, and motorists should expect to see plenty of police cruisers on the road. A sobriety checkpoint will also take place some time during the campaign, he said.
Officials said statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that twice as many alcohol-impaired crashes occur during weekends and four times as many take place during night time hours. Saturation patrols as well as sobriety and safety checkpoints will be occur at great frequency during those high-risk times.
Vermont traffic safety officials said Vermont law enforcement officers contacted more than 22,500 people during a similar campaign last year at 60 checkpoints. That resulted in 108 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Dean said this year’s campaign is especially important because of the dramatic increase this year in fatal crashes. As of Aug. 5 there were 50 fatalities on Vermont roads. There were just 25 fatalities at the same time last year, he said.
"We’ve had a 100 percent increase. So far this year there have been 21 deaths due to unrestrained operators. Twelve operators were impaired," he said. "Of those 12, eight are suspected of having some sort of drugs in their system."
Locally, Dean said it appears that DUI arrests are higher this year than in years past. "We didn’t do that many DUIs last year," he said. "It appears that our DUIs are increasing. I’m reading a lot more DUI affidavits."
Too many drivers are continuing to risk driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, believing they won’t get caught, Dean said.
"They don’t take the message seriously. They think , ‘It won’t happen to me. I’m just going from the bar to home.’ They always think it’s going to be the other guy that gets arrested for DUI," Dean said.
The Bennington Police Department is taking steps to crack down on impaired drivers, though. Dean said more officers have attended advanced DUI screening training. The department also has a trained drug recognition expert who participates in DUI patrols and is available to be called out when needed.
"We need to take a comprehensive stance. Our officers are out there on the road. We’re using grant-funded patrols to make sure our roads are safe, not only from aggressive drivers, but from impaired drivers," Dean said.
Police will be patrolling back roads as well as main roads during the campaign, Dean said.