By Anna Shaffer
Holt Journal Staff Reporter
In Holt, like many other towns in all over the country, driving while intoxicated is a problem. A problem local Ingham County Delhi Division sheriff’s deputies are working hard to eliminate.
Although there has not been an increase in the number of operating while impaired (OWI) arrests in Holt over the years, it is still a number Lt. Dennis Hull would like to see decrease.
“Ideally, we would like the number of arrests for intoxicated driving to be zero,” said Hull.
According to the 2014 Michigan Annual Drunk Driving Audit distributed by the Michigan Department of State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, Ingham County ranked sixth-highest in the state for number of OWI arrests with 1,093 arrests.
The local sheriff’s department is doing the best they can to make sure these numbers stay low in Holt.
Hull said his staff of 16 officers responded to 5,006 calls for service last year, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to investigate drinking and driving. The Ingham County Sheriffs department still made 63 OWI arrests last year, according to Hull, which is which is an average of about 5.5 arrests per month.
“I’m proud of the number of arrests we made,” said Hull. “We’re very aggressive in dealing with this problem. We have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and our residents know we have zero tolerance.”
In addition to patrolling the roads, deputies take added measures including special increased patrolling during holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day and the night before Thanksgiving, when people are more likely to be out drinking.
According to Michigan’s Secretary of State website, Michigan law prohibits driving with a bodily alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or more. Within recent years, Michigan has also enacted a “super drunk” law, which applies to drivers arrested with a BAC of 0.17 or more.
According to SuperDrunkLaw.net, for a traditional drunk driving case, with a BAC below 0.17, you could face a maximum sentence of 93 jail days. For super drunk cases, a maximum jail sentence is 180 days, which is almost double.
Other local groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which has a chapter at Holt High School, are trying to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers on the streets, while giving praise to the officers that make that happen.
“Each year MADD gives out awards to any officer that makes more than 25 OWI arrests in a year,” said Hull. “In 2014, we had three officers win that award.”
Local bar and restaurant owners are also doing their part to help eliminate intoxicated driving from Holt’s streets.
Erica Judy, manager and bartender at Buddie’s Grill in Holt, has educated herself on the signs of overconsumption and does her best to keep those who have drank too much from getting in their car and driving home.
“You really have to pay attention. You don’t know when someone comes in if they have been drinking before they arrived or not, so you can’t assume what you give them is all they’ve had. You might only serve them two beers but they could’ve had a lot more than that before they came in,” said Judy.
Judy says she tries to keep an eye on customers while they’re in, making sure they’re doing things like drinking water and eating, in order to slow them down. She also makes sure they don’t drive home if she feels they’ve had too much.
“I call cabs for people a lot,” said Judy. “Even when they don’t ask. If they refuse I just tell them ‘okay, but I’m going to call the cops as soon as you get in the car.’”
According to Michigan’s Secretary of State website, all impaired driving arrests come with a mandatory 6-month driver license suspension, even for a first conviction. The driver may be eligible for a restricted license after serving 30 days of the suspension.
Compared to the rest of the world, Michigan’s approach to combating drinking and driving is pretty mild.
Dr. Ray Bingham, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and head of the Young Driver Behavior and Injury Prevention Group of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, brought up Australia as an example.
“Consider Australia. Their BAC limit is 0.05 rather than 0.08, and they allow random breath testing. So they can stop anyone at any time without any reason for suspicion and test them. They have a goal of basically stopping and breath testing every driver in Australia every few years,” said Bingham.
This is a tactic that Bingham feels is very effective. “It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been stopped. It really discourages people from drinking and driving because they have a high likelihood of being caught,” said Bingham.
This is very different from what Bingham found in his research with Michigan drivers. “What we found is that the people who drank and drove, when asked what they thought the likelihood of them getting pulled over within one hour of drinking, thought it was really low,” said Bingham.
Bingham said Michigan is one of few states that does not allow random check points for intoxicated driving. “Check points are a very good approach to discourage drinking and driving because it reminds people the police are out there and they could just be randomly stopped,” said Bingham.
“I think specific deterrence policies are much more effective. Laws and penalties that specifically discourage drinking and driving,” said Bingham. “One single thing is laws that absolutely require, without exception, that first time offenders have an interlock tester in their car for at least 6 months or a year. And during that time they should be required to get a treatment.”
An ignition interlock is a device that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A driver must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle, and if they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start, according to the MADD website.
Dr. Bryan Rookey, associate professor of sociology at the University of Portland, thinks the best way to combat drinking and driving is to change the way people see it.
“The most effective, but also the most expensive and time consuming and hard to achieve way, is to change the norms around drinking and driving. Increase friends not letting friends drive drunk, make very clear social rules around the unacceptability, and then it will change,” said Rookey.
The local sheriff’s department has a school liaison officer, as well as a business officer, who help to educate students and local businesses on the dangers of drinking and driving.
Hull said he feels if people would consider just one other option than drinking and driving their department would see a decrease in the number of intoxicated driving cases. “The problem is people usually don’t even consider one alternative,” said Hull.
Hull listed taxi services, Uber, walking, phoning a friend, and assigning a designated driver as some possible alternatives.