Beginning today, law enforcement agencies across the region will soon be placing extra focus on catching drunk drivers as part a specialized campaign coordinated by the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety.
The Starkville Police Department and Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department are among the area agencies participating in the “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign that kicks off today and continues through Labor Day (Sept. 6).
The campaign will focus 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 counties served by the Mississippi Highway Patrol’s Troop G.
“We’re asking agencies to step up enforcement during this period,” Word said. “The officers who write seat belt tickets and make DUI arrests go out and look for them. They create a deterrent for others against drinking and driving.”
Random safety checkpoints are planned locally, with the Police Department planning to deploy its mobile DUI testing station complete with an Intoxilyzer machine to register blood alcohol content, Word said.
Specialized enforcement efforts like the “Over The Limit, Under Arrest” campaign do save lives and deter drunk driving offenses, said Robert Hancock, central region law enforcement liaison for the Office of Highway Safety.
The most recent campaign — the “Click It Or Ticket” effort
held over a 14-day period in late May and early June — saw 10,309 tickets seat belt offense and 1,432 child restraint violation tickets written statewide, as well as 1,264 DUI arrests, Hancock said.
The level of seat belt and child restraint violations and DUI arrests is a drop from previous years, Hancock said.
“We didn’t write as many citations because there’s been an increase in the seat belt usage rate. These campaigns have proven effective,” Hancock said. “They help prevent crashes and help get impaired drivers off the streets.”
The ultimate goal, Hancock said, is reducing the number of fatalities on Mississippi roadways, including those that are alcohol-related. Statistics from the last few years show a marked drop in fatality crashes.
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.
The “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign that begins today is especially critical, since the period around Labor Day typically sees the highest number of traffic fatalities each year, Hancock said.
“So many people lose their lives due to impaired driving during this time period more than any other time of year, so that’s why we focus on it,” Hancock said. “We want to save lives in Mississippi.”
In college towns like Starkville, it’s even more important, Hancock said.
“We get a lot of college kids who are being exposed to things they have never seen in their lives,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the drug is, if you take any kind of substance, you are impaired and don’t need to get behind the wheel.”
Though the “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign formally kicks off today, SPD officers have already been conducting special alcohol offense enforcement efforts in recent weeks, including focusing on underage drinking. Those enforcement efforts will continue beyond the campaign period, Word said.
“For the next six to eight weeks, people can expect to see heightened enforcement of alcohol offenses and seat belt safety,” Word said. “We will be out in force.”
Since many of the enforcement efforts involve officers not working the regular patrol shifts, overtime pay for the officers is provided through grants from the Department of Public Safety.