BENNINGTON >> Additional patrols by law enforcement during the holiday season aim to find impaired drivers and prevent crashes.
The state is taking part in the national "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign through Jan. 3, 2016, according to Scott Davidson, chief of the Governor's Highway Safety Program,
The annual campaign is a multi-agency effort among law enforcement to conduct extra patrols, traffic stops and checkpoints through Christmas and the New Year, Davidson explained, with the goal of spotting drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs and keeping highways safe.
"We want to make sure that drivers aren't impaired on our state's highways," Davidson told the Banner this week. "We're sending a message to people that if you drive intoxicated, you're going to get stopped and be arrested."
In 2014, 38 percent of fatalities on Vermont highways were related to impairment by drugs and alcohol, according to information from the state. To date in 2015, 52 people died in highway crashes and 10 of those involved a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher, which is illegal in every state.
"We encourage anyone who drinks during the holidays to get home any other way they can besides driving," Davidson said. The national campaign encourages drinkers to celebrate responsibly and designate a sober driver or use public transportation.
The campaign is organized in every state and is funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Funding for this December's national effort, which allows law enforcement agencies to have additional staff on patrol, is supported by $7.5 million in paid-national advertising.
Participating agencies include local police departments, the state DUI Task Force and sheriff's departments. The Vermont State Police Operation C.A.R.E (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) will be conducting extra patrols and sobriety checkpoints to detect impaired drivers. In addition, Vermont will utilize law enforcement Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) to evaluate any suspected drug impaired drivers.
A first-time offense for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) can be costly, Davidson said. An impaired driver faces a maximum fine of $750 and up to two years in jail, he said, as well as a drivers license suspension for 90 days to six months.
A first time offender could also have to pay hundreds in legal fees and Project CRASH, the state's drinking driver rehabilitation program. Offenders could also see a significant increase in their car insurance rate, he said.
Davidson spoke of how increased police presence can be a deterrence to someone who may consider drinking and driving.
"If someone is driving into a community, and they see blue lights and that someone is being pulled over, it could make them think twice about getting behind the wheel of a car," he said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979