By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Saturday at the Dan Emmett Festival, local law enforcement officers kicked off a countywide effort to educate residents about the dangers of impaired driving. The “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign runs from Aug. 16 through Sept. 4.
“During this time, we encourage the public to call us with what you see,” said Sgt. Travis Tharpe of the Mount Vernon Police Department. “You are our eyes and ears.
“We are definitely seeing a trend change with respect to impaired driving,” he continued. “It's not just alcohol, and officers are being trained how to recognize other types of impairment when operating motor vehicles in the state of Ohio.”
Local law enforcement officers kicked off the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign on Saturday at the Dan Emmett Festival. Pictured are, from left, Sgt. Travis Tharpe, Mount Vernon Police Department; Lt. Gurjit Grewal, Ohio State Highway Patrol; Capt. Jay Sheffer, Knox County Sheriff's Office; Patrolman Matt White, Fredericktown Police Department; and Lt. Mark Perkins, Danville Police Department, with his K-9 partner, Rezza. KP Photo by Cheryl Splain
“Last year, over 420 people in Ohio were killed because someone chose to get behind the wheel impaired,” said Lt. Gurjit Grewal of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “As part of the patrol's ongoing effort to contribute to a safer Ohio, troopers have continued an increased focus on impaired driving in 2017. But we can't fight this battle on our own; we need your commitment to plan ahead to designate a sober driver or call for a ride. If you drink, don't drive.”
In 2016, OSHP troopers made 25,219 OVI (operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs) arrests statewide. Troopers have averaged well over 24,000 citations each of the last five years.
There were 14,420 OVI-related crashes in Ohio in 2016 that killed 423 and injured 8,785. Those crashes accounted for 37 percent of fatal crashes in Ohio. Speed was a contributing factor in 59 percent of the crashes.
“We have a lot more people who are driving impaired because they are using drugs or other substances,” said Grewal.
All OSHP troopers undergo training in detecting substance abuse, but the patrol also has drug recognition experts who receive additional training. “The DREs are able to do a lot more things and use their skills to support us,” said Grewal.
“Some of the trends we've been seeing throughout Knox County with our office is a lot more impaired drivers as far as not only alcohol but with drugs,” said Capt. Jay Sheffer of the Knox County Sheriff's Office.
Sheffer said KCSO deputies are getting about three traffic stops a week where drugs are in the vehicles with impairment. “The big thing is, we're going to step up our enforcement,” he said. “You're going to see a lot more cruisers out there making traffic stops and trying to get this epidemic under control.”
Patrolman Matt White of the Fredericktown Police Department said that his department is seeing the same trends as the county and state agencies regarding impaired driving with alcohol and illegal drugs. “Our department as a whole is increasing our education to combat that,” he said.
White said his department is also seeing an increase in impaired driving with alcohol due to a couple of bars now operating in Fredericktown. “Recently we went from being a dry town to selling alcohol, so that has added to some of the statistics,” he said.
“I'm going to piggy-back on what everybody has already talked about,” said Lt. Mark Perkins of the Danville Police Department, who was at the kickoff with his 3-year-old K-9 partner, Rezza. “The epidemic with the drugs only continues the problem of impaired driving. Impaired driving doesn't just mean alcohol. This is the beginning of the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, so we'd like to encourage everyone to drive sober. If you're going to drink, don't drive.”
The “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign is sponsored by the Knox Safe Communities Coalition of Knox County.
Festival-goers get the chance to meet Rezza, a 3-year-old Dutch Shepherd-Doberman mix, and Lt. Mark Perkins of the Danville Police Department during Saturday's kickoff of the countywide “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign. The campaign is sponsored by the Knox Safe Communities Coalition of Knox County. KP photo by Cheryl Splain