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STATEWIDE LAW ENFORCEMENT INITIATIVE READY TO TARGET IMPAIRED DRIVERS AND SEAT BELT VIOLATIONS

August 16, 2011 (LITTLE ROCK) –Law enforcement agencies across Arkansas will extend patrol hours and set-up added sobriety checkpoints beginning August 19th in a unified effort to reduce traffic crashes on local streets and state highways through the Labor Day holiday period (September 5th). The mission of the special enforcement plan is to detect and arrest intoxicated drivers and cite violators of the state’s seat belt and child safety seat laws. Impaired driving and failure to comply with Arkansas safety belt laws are two of the more common contributing factors to injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle crashes on Arkansas roadways. “Our goal is to save lives and prevent injuries,” said Colonel JR Howard, Director of the Arkansas State Police and Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Although traffic safety laws are enforced year round, special high visibility enforcement operations are used when traffic volume typically rises such as in the weeks leading up to and through a holiday period.” Authorities believe that placing dual emphases on a special enforcement campaign aimed at drunk driving and seat belt violations will save lives during the final weeks of the summer driving period. “Motorists should be reminded to obey traffic laws or face the consequences of being stopped and ticketed if they aren’t wearing a seat belt and children in the vehicle aren’t secured in a safety seat or arrested if they’re driving impaired from drugs or alcohol,” said Colonel Howard. The statewide initiative is part of an annual national crackdown on drunk driving, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The campaign puts motorists on notice that if they are caught driving while impaired, they will be arrested. Supported by $14 million dollars in federal funds, the advertising and education campaign will introduce a new tagline titled “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” “Our message is very simple, drive sober and wear your seat belt,” said Romell Cooks, Regional Administrator, NHTSA Region 7. “If you choose not to heed this simple message, you face some very severe consequences.” Violators run the risk of expensive fines, increased insurance premiums, and the loss of their driver license. “In addition to the financial impact to you and your family there’s also the possibility a violation may be a contributing factor in a motor vehicle crash which causes death or injury,” Cooks said. Data from NHTSA shows the number of alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities across the U.S. declined in 2009 from the previous year. However in 2009 there were 10,839 deaths in traffic crashes where a driver or motorcycle operator was at or above the legal limit (.08 g/dL or higher). In Arkansas during the same reporting period one-out-of-three traffic fatalities (168 of a total of 585) were alcohol-related. The state’s Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) Mobile will also be used to assist law enforcement officers during the enforcement campaign. Developed with funding from NHTSA, the BAT Mobile is a 42-foot vehicle equipped with modern devices that aid officers in processing suspected drunk drivers on the spot. In addition, the BAT Mobile serves as an education tool and is made available to various law enforcement agencies at events throughout the state. Arkansas also continues to lag behind the national average in the use of seat belts. Seat belt use in the state has increased from 70.4 percent before the primary seat belt law became effective in 2009 to 78.3 percent during 2010. Nationally the average jumps to 85 percent among motorists using seat belts. Despite demonstrations and research that prove the use of seat belts save lives, one out of five Arkansas motorists fail to buckle-up. Police officers in Arkansas may stop a vehicle and ticket the driver or passenger if either is not buckled-up. No other traffic violation has to be observed by the officer in order to initiate the traffic stop. “As the last summer holiday arrives, we encourage all drivers to drive responsibly and sober and insist that everyone in the vehicle is properly buckled-up. Safety belts are your best protection against the drunk driver. So remember, Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over and Click It or Ticket,” said Colonel Howard. For more information on “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” go to www.stopimpaireddriving.org. Information about the “Click It or Ticket” initiative can be found at www.trafficsafetymarketing.org or call the Arkansas Highway Safety Office at (501) 618-8136.