Troopers fighting holiday drinking
Johnny Mack Morrow
Franklin County Times
The passing of Thanksgiving brings us full force into the holiday season, a joyful time to celebrate with family and friends.
Neighborhood gatherings, family events and holiday festivities all multiply in the coming weeks. Along with the celebrations is another thing that multiplies during the holiday season: drunk driving.
This time of year, law enforcement in every state puts extra effort to find impaired drivers before they do themselves and others harm. Alabama is no exception.
Alabama state troopers ushered in the holiday season with a special campaign to combat drunken driving.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving and in the time before Christmas, the troopers are conducting another "Take Back Our Highways" campaign.
"Troopers care about your safety. They will be working to ensure this holiday season is a joyous time unmarred by the tragic consequences of an alcohol-related crash," said Col. J. Christopher Murphy, director of the Department of Public Safety.
Murphy ordered every available trooper, including many whose normal duties don't include road patrol, out on the highways to join with local law enforcement agencies to crack down on drunken driving through stepped-up sobriety patrols and checkpoints.
The troopers this year are using another important tool in combating drunk driving. Through a grant, the Department of Public Safety purchased nine mobile blood alcohol testing vehicles, so that accurate and effective data can be collected at a checkpoint. The "BATmobiles," as they are called, allow law enforcement officers to spend more time on patrol and at checkpoints rather than having to bring in a suspect to the station for an alcohol test.
Murphy says the units have two workstations where Troopers can bring in laptops and issue citations. The most important piece of equipment in these mobile units is the "Drager," the brand name for a portable breath analyzer.
The analyzer sends data remotely to the Department of Forensic Sciences, and it takes only five to eight minutes to run the test, according to Public Safety. The units can also act as temporary holding facilities when an impaired driver is detained on the spot.
The reason for the blitz and the addition of mobile units is because drunk driving is a deadly business in Alabama. Hundreds of people die and thousands are at risk. 1,110 people died in accidents on our highways last year. State officials say 475 of them, more than 42 percent, were alcohol-related.
One of the biggest problems for our state when combating in drunk drivers is repeat offenders.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving recently released figures showing Alabama with some of the highest repeat offender numbers, including an incredible 22,000 drivers with five or more convictions.
MADD believes there is a solution to such a problem-the adoption of an ignition interlock law that would prevent drunk drivers from starting their vehicles.
The "blow to go" ignition devices require a driver to blow into a breath-testing device in order to start their vehicles, and cost the repeat offender about $100 to install and $70 per month to operate.
It has proven effective in other states that have passed it.
Rep. Pricilla Dunn has championed the bill for interlocking devices, and maybe the dedicated work of Dunn and the MADD volunteers can find a way to pass the bill in the upcoming legislative session.
But for all of us, the most important thing to remember is that even a modest amount of alcohol can impair reflexes, put people at risk, and can quickly put you over the legal limit. Drinking and driving don't mix.
Let's hope that we all have a safe and joyous holiday season.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.