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Drunk driving

Published April 26. 2011 05:00PM

It's one of two things.

Either more people are driving drunk and that's a frightening thought. Or else, apprehension techniques have gotten a lot better.

We hope it's the latter.

Whatever the case, Pennsylvania State Police made a record number of arrests for driving under the influence in 2010, while the number of alcohol-related crashes investigated by troopers dropped slightly, Commissioner Frank Noonan announced this week.

"Protecting the public is the highest priority for the Pennsylvania State Police," Noonan said. "Taking impaired drivers off the road is one of the best ways to keep our citizens safe."

Troopers made 17,695 DUI arrests in 2010, an increase of nearly 5 percent over the 16,900 DUI arrests reported the previous year. It was the ninth consecutive year in which the number of DUI arrests by state police increased.

The number of alcohol-related crashes investigated by troopers decreased from 4,625 in 2009 to 4,595 last year, Noonan said.

Noonan said the expansion of the department's drug recognition expert program and continuation of its Operation Nighthawk program are playing a role in the growing number of DUI arrests by troopers. Other factors include the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's continuing commitment to allocating funds to state police for DUI enforcement and his department's partnership with the Pennsylvania DUI Association.

The drug recognition expert program trains troopers and municipal police officers to identify drivers operating under the influence of illegal or prescription drugs and other substances.

Drug recognition experts last year conducted 1,450 drug influence evaluations, a 29-percent increase over the 1,118 evaluations conducted in 2009.

Noonan said 70 troopers and 22 municipal police officers in Pennsylvania have been certified as drug recognition experts since 2004.

The department's Operation Nighthawk program provides troopers and municipal police officers with classroom training regarding DUI-related issues on two consecutive evenings. The officers then immediately take part in roving patrols to identify and arrest operators who are under the influence. Operation Nighthawk programs were conducted in Berks, Fayette and Lancaster counties last year.

While state police and municipal police have ramped up their anti-DUI efforts in recent years, Noonan said the responsibility to end all DUI-related crashes and fatalities ultimately rests with individual drivers.

"Our enforcement efforts play a key role in protecting the public, but we need the cooperation of every motorist to put an end impaired driving," Noonan said. "Each individual has a responsibility to stay out of the driver's seat if he or she is impaired by alcohol or other drugs."

With state and municipal police forces placing so much emphasis on eliminating drunk driving, it's a warning to motorists that they shouldn't take a chance on driving while under the influence. There are options don't drink while driving, or find a designated driver if you are.

Even if you're not involved in an accident, being pulled over for DUI can be a very expensive deal.

Bob Urban

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