PENN YAN — During his more than 25 years as Yates County's sheriff, Ron Spike has noticed a trend seen throughout the state and country.
More people are driving under the influence of drugs, both illicit and prescription narcotics, and sometimes combining them with alcohol.
Spike and other area law enforcement brass — as well as state officials — hope to draw attention to impaired driving during November, which was recently proclaimed STOP-DWI Month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. New York's STOP-DWI program started in 1981 and was the first in the nation.
Spike said Yates County has one drug recognition expert, commonly known as a DRE, in Deputy Charles Emerson. Spike said Emerson has extensive training through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the International Association of Police Chiefs.
"We hope to train another deputy as a DRE, as we are encountering drugs with DWI incidents more frequently," said Spike, Yates County's STOP-DWI coordinator. "There are now 270 certified DREs statewide."
The New York State Special Traffic Options for Driving While Intoxicated (STOP-DWI) program was established in November of 1981 to coordinate state and local efforts to reduce impaired-driving offenses and prevent crashes across the state. Since the program was enacted, fatalities from alcohol-related crashes have dropped 74 percent.
"We have made tremendous progress in New York thanks to the STOP-DWI program, and we look forward to building on that success and continuing to save lives,” said Terri Egan, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles and acting chair of the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee. "It is important this month, as so many families gather to celebrate the holidays, that we continue to spread the message that drunk driving is dangerous."
The state's STOP-DWI program is funded exclusively by fines collected from drunk and/or drugged driving convictions. It has served as a model for similar programs across the country.
The program empowers localities to enact creative and collaborative strategies — including education, awareness and enforcement — to address drunk and drugged driving and prevent tragedies. The program provides a platform for STOP-DWI coordinators from each county and New York City to exchange ideas and collectively discuss and act on mutual objectives that help advance these goals.
The collaboration appears to be making a difference.
Since 2009, data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and research shows that all alcohol-related crashes in New York have decreased by nearly 10 percent. Fatal alcohol-related crashes have fallen by nearly 30 percent and personal injury crashes have declined almost 16 percent.