New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey and law enforcement officials have been emphasizing drunk driving prevention ahead of New Year’s Eve. But the Rockland County district attorney says the state needs to do more about another type of impaired driving.
Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey recently stood with the Rockland County Sheriff and other law enforcement officials to highlight the importance of drunk driving prevention, pointing to statistics that show about one-third of traffic deaths are caused by drunk drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 10,076 fatalities in 2013, slightly down from 10,336 in 2012, in crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. Also in 2013, the 21- to 24-year-old age group had the highest percentage of drivers, 33 percent, in fatal crashes, with BACs of .08 or higher.
Lowey, the Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, says the 2015 spending bill signed December 16th by the president contains federal funding to help educate teens about the dangers of alcohol and driving drunk.
“Under the bill, three grantees in Westchester and Rockland Counties, Wellcore in South Orangetown; Family Services of Westchester and Port Chester; and Student Assistance Services Corporation in Tarrytown will receive awards totaling over $140,000 through the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act, STOP [Underage Drinking] Act grant to partner with local schools and community groups to educate teens in our area.”
She says the bill also supports the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to enable work with automakers to create a technology that would instantly detect if a driver is drunk.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe commended Lowey for her federal efforts to combat drunk driving. However, he says New York needs to make progress on another issue.
“She’s a sponsor of Alisa’s bill that’s going to force the remaining states to enforce ignition interlocks on vehicles. New York was very progressive, was one of the earlier states to adopt it and it’s had a profound effect already,” says Zugibe. “But, at the same time, New York is way behind the eight ball when it comes to really confronting this issue, on the issue of drugged driving. The National Transportation Safety Board says, they believe far more people are driving under the influence of drugs than alcohol yet we’re making very few arrests for a number of important reasons.”
Lowey in July introduced Alisa’s Law to push states to require the use of ignition interlock devices for a minimum of six months for all convicted drunk driving offenders. Leandra’s Law was signed into law in New York in 2009, requiring that any person sentenced for Driving While Intoxicated on or after August 15, 2010 must have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicle the person owns or operates. Meanwile, Zugibe discusses some of what is needed in New York to combat drugged driving.
“There’s no standard in New York for driving while under the influence of drugs. It’s like a .08 [BAC] for alcohol, there’s no corresponding one for drugs. At least 19 of the states have adopted a zero tolerance, saying we don’t care what the level is, if you have any illicit substance in your blood, that’s sufficient for the charge. New York is behind the eight ball, they have not adopted it,” says Zugibe. “And it’s surprising to see how progressive New York normally is and to be behind the eight ball on this one. Right now, it creates a major problem because it’s difficult to prove the actual effect of drugs on a driver despite the fact we know it’s in their system.”
He also calls for funding for training.
“New York also needs a lot of funding for additional officers to be trained as drug recognition experts so they recognize the influence of drugs when they stop vehicles,” Zugibe says.
Carole Sears is president of the Westchester chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. Her husband was killed by a drunk driver 12 years ago.
“MADD’s statistic is, and this is an accurate one, that the average person who is stopped the first time for drunk driving has driven drunk 87 times without being caught,” says Sears.
Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco says increased holiday DWI patrols will pick up again for New Year’s.
“At the end of the year, it’s become abundant from Halloween on, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then New Year’s that we step up our patrols,” says Falco. “We do that with no taxpayer dollars. There’s a grant that’s given to us through Stop-DWI.
Ramped up DWI checks are in force around the state surrounding holidays throughout the year.