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No slowing down -- Stop DWI efforts across the county

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - Updated: 8:03 PM

By LAUREN LEWIS

For the C-S-E

FONDA -- Montgomery County saw one fatality relating to drinking and driving in 2012 and one in 2013, but Jeffery Smith, director of Montgomery County Emergency Services, says even one is too many.

"Certainly our goal would be no fatalities," he said.

While the legal blood alcohol limit is .08 percent, Smith says a zero-tolerance policy is really the way to go.

"There is no exact science for how many drinks it takes to reach that limit," Smith said. "There are differences between weight, how much sleep you've had, how much food you've had, your tolerance level; a new drinker compared to someone who's drank before, all of those things play into it."

That's why Smith stresses the message -- zero tolerance, no drinking and driving. Period. Buzzed driving is drunken driving.

"Because many people will think, or try to calculate, 'Oh, I can have two an hour,' but all that does is get you into trouble," Smith said. "Getting arrested is extremely expensive, but getting into an accident and hurting yourself or injuring others, that's permanent and the message to people is that it's unacceptable."

As Stop DWI coordinator, Smith concentrates on educating children in the seventh through 10th grades.

"Sometimes when you get to 10th, 11th or 12th grade, it's not too late," Smith said. "But sometimes they've already made their mind up."

Smith hopes that by concentrating on the middle school ages, the program will be able to change their attitudes, ideas and values toward drinking and driving.

"That's where we need to hit these kids," Smith said. "When they're still learning and they're still impressionable, before reaching the driving age."

The Stop DWI program holds an essay contest every year during which the winners are invited to the Amsterdam Mohawks Hall of Fame dinner and are presented an award.

"We try to make it a big deal," Smith said.

The program also sponsors a night at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam during the Mohawks' season when alcohol is not served and it becomes an event for the whole family.

Stop DWI also collaborates with the county Youth Bureau for a fun day away at the Mohawks where the schools bus the students there and they are presented with safety messages related to drinking and driving between each inning.

"We try to get the word across to them that buzzed driving is drunk driving," Smith said. "Any amount of alcohol whatsoever and you don't drive a motor vehicle."

Smith hopes that every year the students not only absorb the messages they are trying to impart, but that they also take those messages home to their parents and older brothers and sisters.

Last year there were 205 DWI arrests county-wide in which 33 of the offenders had a blood alcohol content of .18 or higher, which is more than two times the legal limit. Those DWIs resulted in 36 accidents and one fatality in 2013.

"The numbers don't appear on face to have increased too much from 2012 to 2013, but they're still disturbing to me," Smith said. "Who knows how many drunk drivers are really out there, those are the ones who have been caught."

The most common offenders were between 21 and 30 years old (83 out of the total 205), and 15 were not even of legal age to be drinking.

"That's something that we're hoping, by concentrating on these middle school kids, that that number is going to drop in the next few years as they get to the ages of 21 to 30," Smith said.

Data also showed that 72.2 percent of offenders were male.

Smith looks for any opportunity to present the students with positive messages and there are programs that he is currently researching to bring to the schools.

"We're trying to come up with something that is very eye-grabbing, something that's going to stick in their minds," Smith said. "But anything, when you have kids in smaller school districts and they create relationships with people in uniform, I think that's invaluable."

Smith also encourages parents to sit down and talk to their kids about drinking and driving.

"Any parent that's willing to sit down and look at the website and talk to their kids about it, it doesn't get any better than that," Smith said. "Because kids usually listen to their parents."

Parents could go to Stopdwi.org to learn more about teaching their children about drinking and driving and really drive the message home.

Sometimes it can be hard, when you're out with that one friend who likes to drink and thinks they're still OK to drive.

"Take the keys," Smith said. "Sometimes if you try to take keys from a friend, there's an argument. If you're a true friend, you don't care about that, and when the alcohol wears off, that friend should thank you."

Smith said there should always be a plan in place if you plan to go out or go to a party.

"There is no excuse whatsoever for not having a plan or a designated driver," Smith said. "There are plenty of people -- family, friends, taxis, public transportation, walking -- that can get you home."

The Stop DWI program is attempting to change the thought process related to drinking and driving.

However, Smith said that results won't be noticeable for a few years, until his target audience is closer to the legal age.

"If we could eliminate every fatality, every accident out there that's caused by a drunk driver, that would be phenomenal," Smith said. "But I don't know if we can change someone's mind who's 21 to 30 years old."

     

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