LUMBERTON — Ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program is reminding Robeson residents of a sobering fact — from 1995 through 2013, Robeson County had the highest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents in the nation.
Don Nail, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, invoked that statistic in Lumberton Monday during a kick-off event for the annual Booze It and Loose It campaign’s Operation Firecracker — an 11-day initiative leading up to July Fourth that is aimed at reducing impaired driving.
The operation began June 24 and continues through Monday, which is the holiday, with stepped up patrols and checkpoints statewide.
“Our campaigns help people realize that drinking and driving is a matter of life and death and that one wrong decision can have devastating consequences,” Nail said, standing in front of Lumberton City Hall with representatives from the state Highway Patrol, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, Lumberton Police Department, Red Springs Police Department, UNCP campus police and the Department of Health and Human Safety’s Forensic Tests for Alcohol branch.
The event was one of several held to mark the start of the campaign statewide. Nail said the stops were selected in part based on crash data. Robeson County ranks No. 6 statewide for overall number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, he said.
“Statistics have shown that we have a growing problem with impaired driving in Lumberton, in Robeson County and throughout the state,” said Lumberton Police Chief Mike McNeill. The Lumberton Police Department, using a grant from the state, operates a DWI Enforcement Team, and one of the department’s officers serves as the Highway Safety Program coordinator for the county.
“We must educate our citizens and let them know that drunk driving is not tolerated in this state, in this county and in this city,” McNeill said. “We will do everything that we can do to take these impaired motorists off the road because it’s a danger to our pedestrians and other motorists that live here.”
One tool officers have to do that was on display at City Hall Monday: one of the state’s 10 breath alcohol testing mobile units, also known as Batmobiles.
The 32- to 45-foot buses contain everything needed to process a suspected impaired driver, from breathalyzer tests to an on-board magistrate.
Nail also noted a new marketing campaign that tells drivers who may drive drunk “You’re Smarter Than That.” The campaign encourages motorists to plan ahead by designating a sober driver, downloading a ride app, checking on public transportation availability or saving a taxi number into your mobile phone.
“As you celebrate with your friends or family the birth of our nation I urge everyone who gets behind the wheel to make smart decisions that can often make the difference between life and death, ” he said.