Fresh off a Christmas holiday weekend that saw multiple traffic fatalities statewide, law enforcement agencies across the region will be stepping up efforts catching drunk drivers during the New Year's holiday weekend as a specialized campaign coordinated by the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety continues.
The Starkville Police Department, Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, Mississippi State University Police Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol are among the area agencies already participating in the "Over the Limit, Under Arrest" campaign that kicked off Dec. 16 and continues through Sunday.
The campaign is cracking down on DUI and other alcohol-related offenses, as well as seat belt enforcement and traffic safety, said SPD Sgt. Shawn Word, who is coordinating the campaign efforts for the 10 counties served by the Mississippi Highway Patrol's Troop G.
"Agencies have been step up enforcement during this period. We typically see a lot more alcohol-involved crashes and DUIs on the road this time of year," Word said. "For example, we will have extra police officers on the road this weekend doing nothing but drunk driving and alcohol offense enforcement."
SPD officers have continued to place focus on drunk driving enforcement, making 444 DUI arrests for 2010 through Dec. 14.
Random checkpoints are likely at various locations around the city this weekend, Word said.
MHP troopers have already been out in force during the holidays.
Statistics released by MHP public affairs officers on Monday show that troopers across the state made 81 arrests for drunk driving during the Christmas weekend reporting period that began at 6 p.m. Dec. 23 and ended at midnight Dec. 26.
MHP troopers also wrote citations for 1,921 hazardous traffic violations and 934 citations for non-hazardous traffic violation. Troopers also responded to 146 traffic accidents statewide over the extended Christmas weekend, with two of those involving alcohol and 48 seeing some type of injury.
MHP Troop G, which includes Starkville and Oktibbeha County, saw troopers respond to 21 crashes in the area Troop G serves, with only one crash resulting in injury.
MHP troopers will be out in force again during the New Year's weekend, officials said.
Specialized enforcement efforts like the "Over The Limit, Under Arrest" campaign do save lives and deter drunk driving offenses not only during the enforcement period, but year-round, said Robert Hancock, central region law enforcement liaison for the Office of Highway Safety.
"More and more people are getting designated drivers during the holidays, and that's a good thing," said Hancock. "Our main goals are to reduce the number of fatality accidents and get intoxicated drivers off the roads."
Statistics compiled by the Office of Highway Safety show that the campaigns are having a positive effect.
In 2008, there were 768 traffic fatalities statewide, with 38 percent of those being alcohol-related, Hancock said. In 2009, there were 699 traffic fatalities statewide, with 35 percent being alcohol-related, he said.
Current projections show that the number of fatality crashes for 2010 will also see a noticeable decrease, Hancock said.
"These campaigns work. They help prevent crashes and help get impaired drivers off the streets," Hancock said. "Over the Christmas holidays, we're asking agencies to step it up a bit. One of the main things we're trying to do is save lives in Mississippi."
"We don't want to have a police officer, sheriff's deputy or state trooper to have to go to a family and tell them that there has been a crash with a fatality," Hancock added.
Since many of the enforcement efforts involve officers not working the regular patrol shifts, overtime pay for the officers is provided through DUI enforcement grants through the Department of Public Safety.