Extra patrols for Labor Day aim to prevent drunken driving, crashes


BENNINGTON — Bennington County law enforcement agencies aim to step up patrols for Labor Day weekend.

The Bennington County Sheriff's Department plans to have more officers patrolling the roads this week and a sobriety checkpoint to reduce drunken driving.

The efforts are part of the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, which started earlier this month and continues until early September.

"People need to understand that drunk driving is not only deadly, but it is illegal," Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt said in a news release. More than 10,000 people die in drunken driving related crashes each year. "Drivers need to pay attention to their own driving, but also to others on the road who could be driving drunk. It is your business. If you think you see a drunk driver, call us and let us know."

The sheriff's office will hold a sobriety checkpoint this week between Pownal and Arlington.

A checkpoint is also planned in Winhall, according to a press release from that town's police and rescue department. Winhall and Manchester police, working with other law enforcement, will hold the checkpoint in conjunction with the Governors Highway Safety Holiday Campaign.

The annual nationwide Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign aims to reduce the number of drunken drivers on the roads and save lives, according to its website. It's run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Vermont, a first-time offender could be required to pay hundreds in legal fees and complete Project CRASH, the state's drinking driver rehabilitation program. A first-time impaired driver faces a maximum fine of $750 and up to two years in jail, as well as a driver's license suspension for 90 days to six months. Offenders also could see a significant increase in their car insurance rate.

Officials emphasize that driving while under the influence can be deadly. During the 2014 Labor Day holiday weekend, 40 percent of crash fatalities involved drunken drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) at or above the .08 legal limit, according to the NHSTA. The majority of those, more than 80 percent, occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Of the 9,967 people killed in drunken driving crashes in 2014, 64 percent were drunken drivers themselves, according to the NHSTA.

There have been 40 deaths on Vermont roads this year, according to State Police data. Driver impairment by alcohol or other drugs contributed to nearly half of the fatal crashes.

Traffic fatalities were up 68 percent in the January-to-June period over the same six months of 2015, which saw historically low number of traffic accident deaths, according to information from the Agency of Transportation. The cases in which people killed weren't wearing seat belts went from 47 percent of all fatalities in January to June of 2015 to 64 percent in the first six months of this year.

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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