Campaigns target drunken driving; but arrests drop
By KEVIN LEHMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – While reminding people that Thanksgiving is one of the top times
for drunken driving, officials and activist groups are campaigning to deter celebratory
Overall, drunken driving arrests in Michigan have decreased over the last five
years by more than 6,000, from 60,889 in 2000 to 54,056 in 2005.
Alice Stacy, executive director of the Macomb County Mother Against Drunk
Driving (MADD) chapter, said that even though overall arrests have dropped, the
Wednesday before Thanksgiving is still a day for heavy drinking.
“It is really one of the biggest drinking days of the year,” Stacy said. “A lot of
people are returning home from college seeing people they don’t see often and
celebrating and alcohol is a part of that.”
Those who don’t drink regularly often are most dangerous on the road because
they’re not used to the effects of alcohol and more likely to drive under the influence, she
“Non-routine drinkers are the ones who drink more when they celebrate and when
they do this it causes them to think differently than they normally would,” Stacy said.
Homer Smith, executive director of MADD Michigan, said drinking increases
around holidays because of the role of alcohol in American society.
“Drinking permeates all of society and it’s part of our culture in this country,”
Smith said. “It’s a practice that occurs when people are together in a group setting.”
Smith, whose organization doesn’t oppose responsible and legal consumption of
alcohol, said the drop in arrests couldn’t be attributed just to fewer drunken drivers on the
“There have been less alcohol-related arrests on the road but that doesn’t mean
less people are driving drunk,” he said. “There are more than 1,500 less officers than
there were five years ago because of budget cuts.”
Smith noted that offenders often drive drunk numerous times before they’re
Campaigns to discourage drunken driving occur during the year but there is only
one statewide campaign through the Office of Highway Safety Planning, in addition to
campaigns through organizations like MADD.
Last August, a statewide “You Drink & Drive. You Lose.” campaign was
launched to a cost of more than $370,000 federal traffic safety dollars, according to the
The ads, which ran in major cities including Detroit, Grand Rapids and Saginaw,
were supported by more than $90,000 worth of additional advertising at no cost,
according to the agency.
Smith said focusing on the legal penalties for driving drunk are more of a
deterrent than focusing on the health risks that accompany drunken driving.
“If the message is enforcement is out there, that will do more to change people’s
behavior than telling them about the risks to themselves and others,” he said. “People
believe nothing will happen to them if they drive drunk, but that obviously isn’t true
because one out of three people will be affected by drunk driving in their life.”
In addition to MADD, other anti-drunken driving groups exist, such as Students
Against Drunk Driving (SADD), which encourages high school students to make safe
Lauren Foster, a senior at Romeo High School and president of its SADD chapter,
said the group tries to discourage drunken driving to avoid tragic incidents.
“Our school has a lot of drinking by students and we try to let people know that
you can have a great time in high school without having to drink,” Foster said.
Both MADD and SADD run awareness campaigns throughout the year and use a
symbolic red ribbon for car antennas to signify support.
Stacy said the Macomb County MADD chapter uses its red ribbon campaign for
awareness as well as to honor law enforcement officers who stop drunken driving.
“We have a kick-off event this year on Nov. 20 that will be a chance to start
reminding people of the issue, combined with our lifesaver event honoring officers who
combatted drunk driving in the last year,” she said.
Those who stop a drunk driver may have saved a life, Stacy added.
“The red ribbon campaign is intended to let people know about the risks of
drunken driving,” Stacy said. “Our hope is that these little ribbons will remind people to
make plans to celebrate safely.”