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Statewide holiday drunk driving crackdown announced in Albany

Government and law enforcement officials gathered in downtown Albany this week to mark December as STOP-DWI Awareness Month.

The event also kicked off this year's "Drive sober or get pulled over" campaign.

New York State DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder chairs the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. He says dual initiatives are being launched this month: a new impaired driving public service announcement that will air on TV, radio and social media, and an internet campaign warning about the dangers of driving while using cannabis.

"During that same time, we will be sponsoring the 'drive sober or get pulled over' enforcement campaign with our law enforcement partners across the state," Schroeder said. "We are also working collaboratively with the New York State Restaurant Association and the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern association to distribute stickers, which safe driving messaging to be used on the to go drinks at restaurants and bars across New York state. The Governor's Traffic and Safety Committee has also placed ads on electronic jukebox, checkboxes, and 1000s of bars and restaurants including here at McGeary's to encourage responsible driving."

STOP-DWI stands for "Special Traffic Options Program for Driving While Intoxicated." All of New York's 62 counties are participating this year.

STOP-DWI Association Western Region Chair Lindsay Tomidy lost her older brother more than a decade ago when, as a high school student, he drove while impaired.

"There can be a lot of disconnect and a lot of struggle for people to even potentially realize they're impaired before they get on the roadway," said Tomidy. "Around the corner from here I was driving and I saw alcohol infused ice cream. That's just one way to be able to consume something that impairs you. With the legalization of marijuana, we see a large increase in the potency that a lot of people are not aware of. So while you also have impaired driving from marijuana, you have the potential of people even getting incredibly sick or ending up in the hospital because of the in awareness that they have with that potency change."

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple expects this holiday season will be a busy one for law enforcement.

"Everybody's coming out of COVID. Everybody wants to get out, everybody wants to hit bars, Christmas parties," Apple said. "But the problem is, we're already on a record pace with DWIs in our county. I'm sure the adjoining counties are very similar. We're on a record pace for the amount of BAC's that are double and triple. So it's one thing to get somebody that's maybe .1 over, point .01 over, .02 over, it's another thing to get somebody that's double and triple the actual BAC limit. And that's what we're seeing more and more, that means you're spending more and more times in the bar, more hours in the bar. And I just don't get it when you've got Uber, you've got Lyft you've got so many modes of transportation out there and people that are trying to stop the carnage on our roadways."

Speaking at McGeary's Irish Pub, Scott Wexler with the Empire State restaurant tavern Association says New York's Drinks To Go policy has provided a lifeline to restaurants as they continue to recover from the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

"Offering customers the option to add a drink to their takeout orders has been a popular and economically beneficial addition to restaurant menus, but it hasn't diminished our commitment to responsible alcohol consumption," said Wexler. "So we're excited to participate in this partnership with the stop DWI Foundation, the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee and the New York State Restaurant Association. This effort serves to remind all that impaired driving remains a public safety concern and that the drinks to go privilege comes with the duty to serve and consume responsibly."

Apple is urging tavern owners and bartenders to step up, and make sure people aren't leaving their establishments intoxicated. Apple says buzzed driving is drunk driving. If you feel a little funny when you get behind the wheel, stop right there: you've had too much to drink.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.