Drivers can feel more at ease on the road knowing that the number of fatalities because of driving under the influence has decreased in Virginia.
“It’s obviously very dangerous,” said Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the James City County Police Department. “We know all too well that vehicle crashes can kill people very quickly.
Data from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration shows that Virginia has decreased DUI-related crash fatalities by 2 percent since 2017. But, in James City County citations for DUI’s are increasing.
In 2017 there were 146 DUIs issued and in 2019 there were 164, according to data from the James City County Police Department.
“What’s tricky about DUIs is that if you actually look at the [increase], it’s hard to tell whether or not there’s more people driving under the influence or if our efforts to get these folks off the road are actually working better,” Williams said.
Both James City County and the city of Williamsburg receive grants from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles that allow officers to do extra duty that is specifically targeted at traffic law enforcement.
In Williamsburg, DUI citations have decreased from 98 in 2017 to 75 in 2018, according to data from the Williamsburg Police Department.
Police spokesman Charles Ericsson said since Williamsburg is a college town, there are certainly more people driving under the influence of alcohol around the bars near the college. He said there will specifically be officers in a particular area at a certain time because of this trend.
However, he said the department works hard to engage with the public to prevent them from getting into a vehicle while intoxicated in the first place.
“It’s a high priority for us,” he said. “Traffic enforcement is the safety of the citizens.”
Williams said in James City County, the DUI pattern tends to be a bit different because the area isn’t as walkable as the city. She said weekends with holidays, or Super Bowl weekend, tend to be heavy times for people who are out drinking and driving.
“Most often, people are driving if they’re going out to a party or restaurant where they may be drinking,” she said. “But nowadays with Uber, Lyft and taxis, there’s no excuse to drive under the influence.”
Williams said the department tries to educate motorists through interaction and education. In each of the high schools, officers will talk to students in Driver Education courses about the risks of driving under the influence. Additionally, the department hosts the “Every 30 Minutes” program, which simulates the tragedy of a deadly crash because of drunk driving.
When officers are out on patrol for drunk drivers, there are a few key signs they look out for such as failure to obey traffic signs, weaving, excessive breaking and other mistakes.
As the year comes to a close, both departments said educating the public about drunk driving and preventing intoxicated drivers from getting behind the wheel are main priorities.
“We would encourage people to designate a sober driver each time they go out,” Williams said. “But sober doesn’t mean the person who drank [the least]. It means sober.”