State initiative sends warning to drunk drivers

Local police departments urging residents to use ride sharing to prevent drunk driving incidents

The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety has announced its grant recipients for the 2020-2021 “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” initiative and it includes police departments across the state.

“Like most townships, the state gives us money. In this case it is $6,000 for 100 hours of DWI enforcement,” said Chief Richard Calabrese of the Cinnaminson Township Police Department. “So that gives us extra money to put extra officers on the road without burdening the taxpayers.”

The initiative started as a way for the state to further enforce drunk driving violations by giving the police department the opportunity to apply for the grant, designed to offset the cost of increased patrols targeting drunk drivers during the holiday season.

The grant money allows departments to bring in officers for multiple 4-6 hour overtime shifts specifically to canvas the streets for vehicle violations.

“It is more of an awareness campaign as well because we are promoting it on social media,” Calabrese explained. “It brings some type of alert to the officers and serves as a deterrent for someone who may be thinking of having a few extra drinks in a certain location …  Especially with this time period with holiday parties and all that.”

The amount of a department’s grant, which ranges from $6,000 to about $8,000, is dependent on many factors. According to Chief Patrick Gurcsik of the Washington Township Police Department,these factors include population numbers in the township and amount of DWI stops, tickets and arrests, as well as the number of state highways that run through the township. This year Gurcsik and his department were awarded more than $8,000.

“This year we opted for ‘roving saturated patrols’ instead of checkpoints,” Gurcsik said. “Saturation patrols look for signs of impaired driving behaviors such as reckless driving, aggressive driving, speeding, following too closely, cars stopped at green traffic lights and obviously cars weaving.”

Despite COVID-19 limiting social gatherings and closing bars and restaurants early, some police departments are still seeing a significant amount of arrests and tickets related to driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The Monroe Township Police Department looked over statistics and noticed around this time last year the department had 54 DWI arrests, compared to 65 this year. Of those 65 arrests, 26 were a result of a motor vehicle crash.

“I think the people out in public and at bars may be down … But I think due to the virus people are still consuming alcohol and maybe using bad judgement,” said MTPD Chief David Dailey.

“Whatever the reason, we are finding that people are drinking earlier in the day,” Calabrese said. “Our DUI would be at 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. because they are leaving the bars … Unless they are going home or to a house party, there really aren’t many drivers on the road after midnight and we have had drunk drivers here as early as lunch.”

Along with the awareness of more officers patrolling the streets, the departments urge residents to find safe ways to get home after they have been drinking and to not get behind the wheel.

“Call a family member that is in your family unit or make arrangements to stay the amount of time you need until you can drive,” Calabrese advised. “These are all things, when you are sober and before you start drinking, that should come into play.”

Officers also suggest using a ride sharing app such as Uber or Lyft to get home safely. Despite COVID-19, these ride sharing apps are still up and running and only require passengers to wear a face covering.

“I don’t think they could make it any easier to get a ride home,” Gurcsik said. “In today’s day and age there is really no reason to drive after you have had more than a few drinks.”

 

To learn more about the state’s Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, visit www.nj.gov.