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Cops plan to watch local bars

Officers will be on the lookout for people who have had too much to drink.

Officers will be on the lookout for people who have had too much to drink.

December 23, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - This holiday season, police officers will park near bars and watch for people who drive after drinking too much alcohol.

Police also plan to put more officers on the roads and to set up sobriety checkpoints.

It's all part of an effort to recognize December as National Drunk and Drugged Driving (3-D) Prevention Month and a campaign called "You Drink & Drive. You Lose."

Members of the Washington County Health Department's Community Traffic Safety Program Coalition and representatives from local police departments discussed how to combat a problem that may be getting worse in recent years.

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As of Dec. 9, there had been 20 fatal crashes - resulting in 25 deaths - in Washington County this year. Nine of those crashes were attributed to drunk driving.

Last year, one-third of the 12 fatal crashes were attributed to drunk driving.

Andrea Harris, program director for the Washington County Community Traffic Safety Program, said vehicle and traffic laws will be tightly enforced.

"We're trying to enforce speed laws and occupant protection issues," Harris said.

Of the 25 people killed in fatal crashes this year, 17 percent were not wearing seatbelts, she said.

Nationally, police will spend 17 days - Dec. 20 to Jan. 5 - on the drunk and drugged driving enforcement effort.

Chief Arthur Smith said Hagerstown police are using statistics they've studied on fatal crashes to help prevent future crashes.

Police officers will wait within a few blocks of bars during the enforcement campaign, Smith said. They will pull people over if they drive erratically.

The hope is that people will tell other people about the various law enforcement methods.

"The best deterrent effect is word of mouth," Smith said.

Maryland State Police will run "saturation patrols" between midnight and 3 a.m. on the highways, 1st Sgt. Rick Narron said.

"We plan to have a sobriety checkpoint some time during the holiday period," as well as a separate seatbelt compliance checkpoint, he said.

Harris said advance publicity helps spur people to think about consequences.

"If you know you're going to drink, designate a driver, get a taxi, spend the night," she said.

George Turner, the owner of Turner Van Service, plans to offer rides to people who have had too much to drink on New Year's Eve, but he won't decide until after Christmas how that will work.

"We've done some variation of that since 1981," Turner said during a telephone interview.

Statistics released Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has dropped dramatically over the last 20 years.

During that period, the rate of alcohol-related fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was down 62 percent nationwide.

The rate was down 55 percent in Maryland, 56 percent in Pennsylvania and 70 percent in West Virginia.

In all three states, the rate bottomed out in 1999, then started to climb again.

In West Virginia, the rate rose 20 percent in 2000, then dropped 27 percent the next year, reaching an all-time low.

The "You Drink & Drive. You Lose" campaign started in 1999, around the time fatality rates started to rise slightly after years of decline.

Harris said Washington County joined the national campaign that year, but did its own prevention programs for many years before that.

The latest Tri-State fatalities attributed to impaired driving came on Dec. 13, when a Chambersburg, Pa., couple was killed in a crash on Interstate 81.

Pennsylvania State Police said the woman driving the vehicle that hit the couple's car was legally intoxicated and tested positive for marijuana.

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