Long Island, New York Sees Drop in DWI Deaths

Increased police efforts coupled with treatment programs and harsher penalties has led to a drop in drunk driving deaths on Long Island, New York.

During 2005 there were 75 deaths attributed to drinking and driving. While still unfortunate, that figure is down from a high of 119 in 1990. Local officials are pleased with the progress they are making. Traffic safety educator for Nassau’s Stop DWI program, Christopher Mistron, says "It’s a tribute that our numbers have been going down. I’d like to think we could get them even lower."

Mistron cites a shift in the public attitude towards drunk driving, acknowledging it as a serious offense. That awareness and social pressure, along with safer automobiles and improved medical care, have influenced the drop in drunk driving deaths.

Police in Nassau and Suffolk counties have cracked down on drinking and driving with a series of tactics that include an increased presence during the holidays, the targeting of roads with higher rates of DWI arrests and the use of sobriety checkpoints. The police have received special training to help them identify drunk drivers.

Those arrested for DWI are realizing much tougher penalties in the courts too. In the past, drivers have plead down to traffic violations, even with blood alcohol content (BAC) readings as high as 0.16. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice says anyone with a blood alcohol content higher than 0.129 will now be held to a misdemeanor charge and have a permanent arrest record. It is part of an aggressive stance that also advocates jail time, license revocation and use of an ignition interlock device depending on the BAC level. A misdemeanor charge is automatically filed against anyone refusing to take a breathalyzer test.

New York DWI defense attorneys have challenged those actions citing the long-term negative impact on drivers who are not alcoholics or repeat offenders.

The effort to eliminate drunk driving on Long Island also includes treatment opportunities and proactive probation measures. Those arrested for DWI in Nassau and Suffolk counties can get help with their drinking problem. Jonathan Scherr, director of the Suffolk jail’s DWI facility says, "You can put someone in jail but unless you give them  treatment you’re just going to put an alcoholic back on the road." The tools being used by Long Island officials to reduce drunk driving – police enforcement, education, treatment and stricter prosecutions – are all contributing to safer roads.

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