Campaign reminds drivers if they 'booze it' they may 'lose it'

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

  
With Christmas and New Years Day close at hand, law enforcement agencies across the state focus on reducing the number of lives lost on Tennessee highways as a result of accidents involving alcohol.
   In 2000, 472 people died in alcohol related crashes in the state. In 2001, that number jumped to 537.
   "Our goal is to get it to zero," said Officer Jerry Hughes of East Tennessee State University's Public Safety Office. Hughes serves as the District Coordinator for East Tennessee for the Governor's Highway Safety Office.
   As part of the effort to save lives, the office of Governor Don Sundquist enacted a campaign titled "Booze It and Lose It," which is a branch off of the successful "Click It or Ticket" program that has been conducted during recent years.
   "We've been looking at our statistics and saw they were rising again and we knew we had to do something about it," said Randall Smith, of the GHSO, who is in charge of the program.
   The program stresses safe driving throughout the year, but it focuses its attention on the holidays because of the celebrations going on as well as the higher number of people traveling on the highways. "All of our families are on the road and we don't want to lose any of them during the holiday period," Smith said.
   The key to safety during the holidays is responsibility, according to Smith. "This is not an anti-drinking campaign, it's an anti-drunk driving campaign," he said, adding that it is important for those who may drink during the holidays to be sure and have a designated driver. Also, Smith said, those people who host parties where alcohol is served should be sure to ask their guests who wish to drink if they have a safe way home and if they do not then try to find them a way home or a place they can stay.
   To get the word out about the program, as well as the consequences of driving while under the influence, the GHSO has purchased advertising for the campaign to remind drivers that if they are convicted of DUI, then they can, among other things, lose their driving privileges.
   Also, the GHSO has asked law enforcement agencies in all of Tennessee's 95 counties to set up sobriety checkpoints and increase patrols, especially in areas that have been identified as having high incidents of alcohol related crashes.
   According to Hughes, the law enforcement agencies in Northeast Tennessee will be doing just that.
   "You have to show that Tennessee is serious about enforcing these laws," he said.
   The increase in death rates in alcohol related crashes in Tennessee has caused some negative feedback for the state, according to Hughes, who stated that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) had given the state a grade of C minus for the number of fatalities from alcohol related crashes. "That is not good compared to some of the states around us," he said.
   Hughes serves as the coordinator for GHSO programs for the seven county region of Northeast Tennessee. He works with municipal police departments, county sheriff's departments and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
   The "Booze It and Lose It" campaign began over the weekend and will continue on through Jan. 5, 2003.