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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Beware — officers to focus on drunk driving in March

Beware the ides of March, as Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar. Caesar didn’t listen, and it cost him his life.

For Indiana drivers, the old expression could mean beware of your condition when you are behind the wheel of your car this coming month, because if you’re not sober, you might just get pulled over. Not to mention the fact that drunk driving can also cost your own life, or the lives of others.

“Drive sober or get pulled over” is the reminder being used by the Allen County Traffic Safety Partnership for part of a statewide campaign to enforce the law against impaired driving. News-Sentinel.com reported last week that in March, officers will work overtime to conduct patrols and sobriety checkpoints to prevent dangerous and impaired driving.

The effort is being funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

Why March? Because two of the heaviest drinking events of the year occur that month – St. Patrick’s Day and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. March 2019 saw 433 alcohol-related crashes in Indiana, according to the ICJI, with 205 injuries and five fatalities. On St. Patrick’s Day weekend alone, there were 65 crashes and one fatality.

As with any safety emphasis on the highways – such as the recent focus on drivers obeying the law by stopping for school buses with their stop-arms extended and lights flashing – the increased presence of law enforcement can be a deterrent to driving infractions. We hope this campaign in March will go far to make drivers more aware of their responsibility behind the wheel.

“This March, we’re conducting our own full-court press targeting anyone driving under the influence,” Lt. Tony Maze of the Fort Wayne Police Department said in a statement. “As a basketball state, we want everybody watching the tournament to have a good time, but not at the expense of others. It’s simple: If you plan on drinking, don’t drive.”

That seems like common sense, but the number of drivers who don’t obey that law is alarming.

During 2016, the latest reporting year in the U.S., there were 10,497 total fatalities due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes. More than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

There were 4,450 traffic collisions related to alcohol in Indiana that year, according to data from the state Department of Transportation, causing 99 fatalities and 1,788 injuries.

In Indiana, as in every other state, drivers are considered over the legal limit when their blood alcohol level reaches .08 percent. The limit is .04 percent for drivers of commercial vehicles and .02 percent for drivers under the age of 21. There are more severe penalties for those caught driving with a BAC of .15 percent or greater.

The Allen County Traffic Safety Partnership listed some things we can all do to prevent impaired driving this March, such as never driving impaired yourself. Besides that, if you know you will be drinking, plan in advance to have safe transportation home, which could include using a taxi or public transportation.

But what about those of us who are sober and see someone who is impaired planning to drive? The ACTSP recommends taking their keys and helping to make arrangements to get them home safely.

What if you see someone on the road driving drunk? Call 911. Law enforcement officers simply can’t be everywhere at all times to stop those who are breaking the law and endangering themselves and others. It behooves us all to do what we can to help out.

You have been warned, as Caesar was. Don’t ignore it.

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