As the holidays draw near, law enforcement often looks to bolster safety initiatives, such as sobriety checkpoints, to reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road.
But the work to curb impaired driving — whether drug or alcohol related — isn’t limited just to police forces.
Across the state, people such as Oneida County’s Tom Giruzzi are familiar faces as they head up STOP-DWI programs. And, Giruzzi says, when you look at DWI incident numbers, you can see these public outreach programs are working.
“We have an aggressive educational program that includes schools and business,” said Giruzzi, Oneida County’s STOP-DWI coordinator. “It’s obviously a very busy time of year.”
“Is it working? We like to think so,” Giruzzi said.
Looking at statistics, Giruzzi notes that in 2009 there were 1,150 driving while intoxicated arrests in Oneida County. In 2017, that figure was 546, and there was one fatality due to a motor vehicle accident.
Through the third quarter of 2018, Giruzzi said there were 350 DWI arrests, and so far, no fatalities.
A wider perspective puts a brighter shine on these efforts. For more information about the STOP-DWI program in Oneida County, visit www.stopdwi.org/initiatives-Oneida
Since the STOP-DWI program was enacted statewide in 1981, fatalities from alcohol-related crashes on New York’s roadways have decreased 74 percent, according to information from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. The state STOP-DWI program is funded exclusively by fines collected from convictions of drunk or drugged driving.
“The program empowers localities to enact creative and collaborative strategies utilizing education, awareness and enforcement to address drunk and drugged driving and prevent tragedies resulting from impaired-driving crashes,” reads a release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
In an echo of Giruzzi’s local statistics, the state reports that since 2009, data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management shows alcohol-related crashes in New York have decreased by roughly 10 percent, with fatal alcohol-related crash numbers dropping by about 30 percent. Personal injury crashes have declined almost 16 percent.
When it comes to collaboration with area law enforcement, Giruzzi and Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol said work includes getting the word out about sobriety checkpoints and safe driving messages.
“At the Sheriff’s Office we work with the STOP-DWI program,” Maciol said. “The message we have been pushing is to always have a plan (for travel).”
Maciol added that during the holidays there are increased road patrols above and beyond the regular two patrol units who work year-round to find drunken drivers in Oneida County.
But getting the word out before drivers hit the road is key. Giruzzi said education starts with teens and preteens.
“We really focus a lot on young people ... (and) the message is the same,” he said. “We need preventative education initiatives.”
This month, Giruzzi said, programs are scheduled for Nov. 14 at Utica College and also at a Nov. 21 Utica Comets game.
Mock DWI crashes also are effective examples to help get the message across. While it hits home for a lot of students, he said, there always are kids who might goof off and not immediately take the message seriously.
Those are the times when Giruzzi changes up his mentoring tactics.
“We’re educators at the end of the day. It’s a joke until it hits you,” Giruzzi said.
Over the years, he has worked with many families who lost a loved one in drunken driving-related incidents.
That’s a knock on the door from a police officer you don’t want to get, Giruzzi said.