Monday, September 19, 2011

Smoky Mountain Agencies Ramp Up DWI Efforts

In a press conference held on Wednesday, August 31st, local, state, and federal law enforcement officials in the Smoky Mountain Region gathered to announce the recently created Foothills Law Enforcement Coalition at a local college campus.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park took the lead in forming this 13-agency partnership, consisting of all the sheriff and police departments in the three Tennessee counties adjoining the park, including the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Made possible with special funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the focus is to increase public awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired through education efforts, as well as to coordinate law enforcement activities like sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols.

Great Smoky Mountains is one of three parks participating in a pilot program funded by NHTSA aimed at reducing DUI crashes in the National Park System through enhanced education and law enforcement efforts. Now in the third year of this program, these efforts have enabled rangers at the Smokies to more effectively join with neighboring law enforcement partners to more effectively target impaired drivers. The other pilot parks are Delaware Water Gap and Zion.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s mountainous roads are narrow, windy and heavily travelled. It can be an unforgiving environment for a careless driver; or worse, for a driver whose mental state is compromised by alcohol or drugs,” said Clay Jordan, the park’s chief ranger, at the conference. “Of the 14 or so alcohol-related fatalities the three county area averages each year, three or four of them typically occur within the park.”

Kendell Poole, director of the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office, whose office receives funding from NHTSA to dole out to local law enforcement agencies, also played a role in the conference.

“This is a significant partnership,” he said. “By this endeavor, we are going to create further public awareness in and around the national park area. We’re going to create a united front and let people know we are serious about keeping our roads safe.”

In attendance were family members of a 32-year old man who was killed by a drunk driver and their story was brought to light. Representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) also were present and interviewed by the media. All three Knoxville television stations, ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates, covered the event as well as print media from each of the participating communities.

The different departments also organized educational displays including goggles that simulate various stages of intoxication, along with examples of equipment used at sobriety checkpoints, and a DUI crashed vehicle. The press event also showcased a couple of professionally designed graphics, visually depicting the 13 agencies working together to combat impaired driving. The graphics are being distributed throughout the region as an educational tool.

Ruth Esteban, an official in attendance from NHTSA, stated that the press event was a great success and that news of the coalition efforts was acknowledged and well-regarded at the highest levels of NHTSA.


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