Members of the Chautauqua County STOP DWI board met recently to discuss current and future promotions, the new method used to calculate fees, the 2012 budget and create a more regular meeting schedule.
The STOP DWI program is something every county in the state has the option to opt into with a focus on enforcing drunk driving laws, educating the public and providing treatment for offenders. Funding is generated through fines collected from several types of charges, including driving while intoxicated, vehicular assault, manslaughter or homicide if there is alcohol involved, and several others if there is a previous history of drunk driving or alcohol use.
According to Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace, the bulk of the money generated through fines goes back into enforcement of drunk driving laws in order to catch and prevent more drunk drivers. The rest of the money is then divided between the District Attorney's office, the probation department and the Chautauqua on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council.
In years past, part of the money raised by the program has also been used for promotional efforts to bring more awareness to the issue of drunk driving, including prizes to be given away at after-prom and after-graduation parties, as well as posters and announcements at the home games of the Jamestown Jammers.
However, several new ideas were brought up during Thursday's meeting as well, including a revamped designated driver program. Under the new program that was proposed during the meeting, the STOP DWI program would provide "STOP DWI" branded bracelets to any bars that wished to sign up for the program.
The bars would, in turn, provide free, non-alcoholic drinks to the designated driver for the course of their time at the bar. A second possible promotion that was proposed was a bartending competition with the prize being awarded to the bartender that creates the most innovative, interesting or otherwise impressive "zero-proof" drink. Similar competitions have been hosted in other locations and current marketing trends in the food industry have shown that premium non-alcoholic beverages are gaining in popularity. These new possibilities are only in the beginning stages at this point, but may see implementation further down the road.
"They're absolutely solid suggestions," said Gerace. "We're going to research them more fully and then we're going to bring them back to the board for a decision. We're always looking for things that will help reduce the occurrences of drunk driving. We've done various events and experiments like billboards and placemats at restaurants in the past, so we're constantly looking for things that will be effective in reducing these types of accidents."
Data provided by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has shown that between 2008 and 2010, the incidence of alcohol-related accidents steadily decreased. Despite this fact though, there are still alcohol-related fatalities and injuries occurring in Chautauqua County, as well as property damage. The number of passengers injured in alcohol-related accidents also increased between 2008 and 2010. Those subjects most often charged in these types of accidents tend to be males between the ages of 21 and 29. Even though accidents are still happening, Gerace has an optimistic outlook for the future.
"I'm very encouraged at this point," said Gerace. "I recall when I first began my career, we had an almost 75 percent alcohol related fatality rate and now we're well below the national average. One fatality is still too many, though. We want to keep up the pressure and eliminate the problem because that's something that no family should have to deal with."
According to Gerace, the program has seen it's share of speed bumps, but lately things have been operating much more efficiently. A recent change in the database system used to keep track of fine payments has allowed more accurate calculations of those that are paid and those that aren't. Currently, the STOP DWI board is working on a finalized plan for 2013 and its contract with all of the participating municipalities was recently approved through 2015.
"I'm very happy with the program," said Gerace. "I just want to make sure that everybody is involved, invested and helping out."