Delaware County court, health and law enforcement officials gathered Wednesday morning to kick off the 2016 Driver Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign that will run through Labor Day weekend.
The event was hosted by the SAFE Delaware County coalition and marks an increase in law enforcement presence on roads until the end of Labor Day weekend, in an attempt to raise awareness and crack-down on impaired driving. The campaign is a partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
SAFE Delaware reports Labor Day weekend is one of the deadliest times of the year in-terms of impaired driving fatalities.
Sgt. Ty Skaggs, of the Delaware Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol was one of the event’s speakers and reported OVI arrests at up this year by 23 percent.
“We can’t be everywhere at once,” Skaggs said. “We need your help.” Skaggs encouraged residents who go out to designate a driver or to use a driver service. Skaggs also urged drivers to call and report any impaired driver they see on the roadway. Skaggs said these drivers can be reported by dialing #677.
Lt. Marcus Pirrone, the Delaware post commander of the highway patrol, said impaired drivers aren’t just out at night or on the weekends.
“It’s hour of the day that these people are out there,” Pirrone said. “Please be observant and help us out. Talk to your neighbors and your friends.”
Delaware County Juvenile and Probate Judge David Hejmanowski was a keynote speaker at the event and discussed the penalties and sentences for impaired driving.
“We are creatures of statue and we are guided by what the statute requires us to do,” Hejmanowski said. “The problem we run into as court systems… Even when the court follows the statutory penalties that it’s required to follow and even when it suspends driver’s licenses and even when the court imposes jail or prison sentences the problem exists that those jail sentences are not indefinite and those folks are going to be back on the roads… even in situations where their license has been suspended.”
Hejmanowski said people will find ways around restrictions imposed by the court, such as borrowing a friend’s car if their registration has been voided.
“We cannot avoid [OVI situations] simply by placing someone in jail for six months or 12 months,” Hejmanowski said. “We have to begin to look at solving the underlying problem. If we don’t solve the underlying problem we are going to have folks continue to get behind the wheel.”
Hejmanowski said it’s important that the defendants in these cases know that there are opportunities for them to seek help so they can work at the underlying issues that cause them to continue to get behind the wheel.
Hejmanowski has worked in Delaware County for 19 years and he said during that time he recalled only one year in which a juvenile was not killed in a motor vehicle crash.
“Driving is the most dangerous thing we let juveniles do,” Hejmanowski said. He added that parents have to get the message across that it’s not okay to get behind the wheel impaired.
“For me it’s a personal issue. I have known a number of these kids. Please tell your kids that they need to slow down, that they need to leave more space, that they put their phone down, that they need to let someone else pay attention to the radio, that they need not to be paying attention to the passengers in the vehicle and of course that they need not to be driving impaired.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.