Campaign Hopes to Reduce DUIs

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006

Citing an unyielding number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, state and federal officials announced a campaign yesterday to target drunk drivers through stepped-up enforcement and an $11 million advertising campaign.

Last year, 16,885 people died nationwide as a result of alcohol-related accidents -- a 0.2 percent drop compared with 2004. The number of deaths was significantly less in the Washington area and some other parts of the country.

"Our message is simple and strong," said Acting U.S. Transportation Secretary Maria Cino, announcing the campaign yesterday afternoon in Rockville. "If you're caught driving impaired, you'll be arrested. This is a serious business. It's a life-and-death business."

The number of alcohol-related fatalities in Maryland and Virginia decreased from 2004 to 2005 by 17 percent and 4 percent, respectively, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual report on alcohol-related fatalities. Maryland had a total of 235 deaths last year; Virginia reported 347. The number of fatalities in the District rose from 19 in 2004 to 26 last year. Those numbers include accidents in which motorists and/or pedestrians were under the influence of alcohol.

The number of fatalities in accidents involving at least one impaired motorist decreased last year in Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Prince William. Arlington, Charles, Frederick and St. Mary's counties had increases -- although their numbers were relatively low -- and the number in Anne Arundel remained constant.

The new campaign -- "Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest." -- will include TV, radio and online ads in English and Spanish. They will primarily target male drivers ages 21 to 34, the segment of the population most likely to get behind the wheel drunk.

The TV ad in English seeks to debunk an oft-used line -- "I just had two beers, officer" -- that has become a running joke among patrol officers, officials said. The ad features what appears to be alcohol pouring out of young men's cars as they roll down their windows after being pulled over for driving erratically.

The Spanish ad shows a large family celebrating a man's birthday outdoors. The outing is ruined later that evening after he is arrested for driving drunk.

The ads will air during a period of heightened enforcement of drunken driving laws, which starts this weekend and runs until the end of the month. Officials say law enforcement agencies across the country will have numerous sobriety checkpoints and more patrols.

Officers performed field sobriety tests yesterday on a handful of young men who volunteered to drink to help officers demonstrate how they test whether a person is sober enough to drive.

"This is by no means a victimless crime," said Deputy U.S. Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, noting that drunk drivers are one of the leading causes of on-duty deaths of law enforcement officers.

Glynn R. Birch, the first male national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, held up a photograph of his 21-month-old son, who was killed by a drunk driver. After learning that the motorist was a repeat offender, Birch said, he reached out to MADD and became an advocate for tougher enforcement of drunken driving laws.

"Drunk driving does not discriminate," he said. "It is a serious crime."

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