Using a federal grant to create a DUI Task Force, Lexington County has cut its highway death rate in half. During the first six months of 2012, there were 33 highway deaths in Lexington County. That dropped to 15 deaths in the first six months of this year.
"We're very pleased that we've had such a significant reduction in people dying in motor vehicle collisions in our county, but the bad news is we still have a high percentage of those that are alcohol-related and many of the people who died had seat belts available but were not wearing them at the time of the collisions," says Major John Allard, spokesman for the Lexington County Sheriff's Office.
While the overall number of deaths is down, Allard says 80 percent of the highway deaths in the county this year are alcohol-related.
The federal grant, of $170,000 a year, created the Community Action for a Safer Tomorrow (CAST) DUI Task Force. Lexington County got the grant because it had the highest number of alcohol-related highway deaths in the state. In 2011, 26 people died in Lexington County in alcohol-related deaths. The next-highest was Greenville County with 21. Greenville County was recently awarded a similar grant, says Caroline Humphries, Lexington County CAST coordinator.
How did the grant reduce the death toll? The money paid for overtime for police officers to patrol more, and for DUI checkpoints. "There is some research to show that increasing the level of enforcement, along with the visibility of that enforcement, can lead to behavior change around drinking and driving. So that's one of the evidence-based strategies that we know can be effective," Humphries says.
The grant also paid for a public awareness campaign, including billboards updating Lexington drivers how many DUI arrests have been made for the year. There's also a training component for bartenders and wait staff at bars and restaurants.
"It was brought to our attention that there are servers that aren't aware that there is a law prohibiting sales of alcohol to an intoxicated patron," Humphries says. The task force has a training program called PREP, which stands for Palmetto Retailer Education Program.
"That can be really helpful in helping servers identify an intoxicated patron, understand their liability personally, as well as helping the establishment understand what their liability can be in the event that a tragedy occurred," she says.
The grant also helps track statistics, which show where more DUI arrests are made or alcohol-related accidents are happening. The task force also tracks where those arrested for DUI or involved in DUI wrecks had their last drinks.
Besides Lexington County, Cherokee, Laurens, Edgefield, Kershaw and Williamsburg counties got similar grants to target DUIs.
Abbeville, Greenwood, Newberry, Colleton and Berkeley counties got grants to target underage drinking. Horry and Darlington counties got grants to target both.
Recently-funded grants are going to Greenville, Richland and Lancaster counties to target DUIs and to Florence and Sumter counties to fight underage drinking.
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