SIKESTON -- Law enforcement officials throughout the state and nation insist motorists who "drink and drive, will lose" this Labor Day weekend.
The message "You drink and drive. You lose." has been seen and heard across the nation since Aug. 20. The purpose of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's campaign is to crack down on impaired drivers by increasing the enforcement of impaired driving laws beginning Aug. 27 and running through Sept. 12.
The Missouri Department of Transportation works in cooperation with the NHTSA and the Missouri Safety Center to award grants to local law enforcement agencies to assist in the national effort.
"The national campaign is aimed at assisting local law enforcement agencies, and we'll be a part of it," noted Capt. Christian T. Ricks, state public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Jefferson City.
Although the patrol endorses the national campaign, its officers will also participate in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort).
"Our main focus will be Labor Day weekend and Operation C.A.R.E.," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett Jr., public information officer for Troop E of the patrol. "Every officer will be out working this region strictly in an effort to decrease accidents and to encourage drivers to not drink and drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
Under C.A.R.E., the Labor Day counting period begins at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday. The Patrol, along with local law enforcement, will participate in Operation C.A.R.E.
"Our goal is not to arrest a lot of people, but to get people to make the decision not to drink and drive. And if you're going to drink, you should just be responsible." Plunkett said.
Last year 14 people were killed and 684 were injured in 1,487 traffic crashes occurring during the Labor Day holiday counting period in Missouri. According to the patrol, this means one person killed or injured every 6.7 minutes. Over the past five years, 65 people were killed and 3,271 were injured in Labor Day holiday crashes.
"The state loses almost 300 people a year due to impaired drivers," Plunkett recalled. "That's why we're keeping an emphasis on and working real hard to reduce drinking and driving. The best way we can do that is to get people who do consume alcohol to understand the facts."
During this Fourth of July holiday, Troop E made 25-30 driving while intoxicated arrests, and Plunkett assured law enforcement officers will be out this weekend. The officers are trained to identify those kind of drivers, he added.
Plunkett also pointed out the average cost of a DWI is $5,000 including attorney's fees, court costs, etc.
"Most of the people who get DWIs are typically not bad people -- they just made a bad decision. They're not harden criminals but they got behind the wheel while they're impaired," Plunkett said.
In addition to monitoring drivers who have been drinking, Plunkett noted the patrol will also recognize drivers who are driving under the influence of narcotics and prescription drugs.
"Just because people have a prescription of a medication does not make it legal to operate a motor vehicle. It's just as deadly if you're impaired by a prescription, illegal or intoxicating drug.
Drivers should check with their doctor or pharmacist to determine if they should be driving. Even if the bottle is not labeled, if a person is showing they're impaired, if they don't feel like their normal self, this could effect judgment and depth perception and make them drowsy.
According to Plunkett, each year Troop E accounts for 25 percent of the patrol's fatalities statewide -- a percentage that's not acceptable, he said.
"We're not anti-alcohol," Plunkett said. "The patrol is not asking for anything unusual this holiday -- we're just asking people to make better decisions."
To ensure safety, MoDOT recommends to those who drink to choose a designated driver before partying, taking mass transit or a taxicab or asking a sober friend to drive them home.
"We want people to get where they're going and get there safely, and they have to pay attention to what they're doing," Ricks commented. "Buckling up and paying attention are probably two of the best things people can do this weekend."