HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Tuesday, state officials reminded Pennsylvanians to celebrate responsibly and to plan ahead for the upcoming holiday.
Labor Day weekend is a time of celebration as summer draws to an end and fall approaches. But this morning at the Pennsylvania State Police headquarters, law enforcement and officials urged everyone to use caution and warned of dangerous decisions that can be fatal, especially during times of celebration.
Officials from PennDOT and the Pennsylvania DUI Association joined troopers at this morning’s event. Also present was a nearly 30-foot wall with 2,400 names. The wall is a replica of the DUI Association’s DUI Victims Memorial. Each name represents a victim who lost their life at the hands of an impaired driver.
“We honor and remember the lives lost because someone chooses to drive impaired,” said C. Stephen Erni, the PA DUI Association Executive Director. “Labor Day weekend and every remaining day of the year, the message is clear: Do not drive impaired. Our collective goal is to end the suffering caused by an individual’s choice to drive impaired,” Erni added.
The wall is a sobering reminder of how dangerous and common impaired driving really is, especially around the holidays.
“Never a day passes that we do not remember the lives taken or altered because of an impaired driver. Labor Day Weekend 2021, 530 people were killed on our nation’s highways as a result of an impaired driver,” said Dave Andrascik, the PA Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Program Coordinator with the PA DUI Association.
Last year, troopers made just shy of 600 DUI arrests over the Labor Day weekend and investigated nearly 60 alcohol related crashes.
“In Pennsylvania last year, 13 people tragically lost their lives during the Labor Day holiday weekend, and of those, seven were impaired driving related,” said Andrascik.
This year, troopers plan to be out in full force again to reduce fatalities.
“Pennsylvania State Police continues to take an aggressive approach to enforcing DUI laws,” said Colonel Robert Evanchick, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “I ask each and every one of you to always consider your actions and what consequences may follow. Never drive impaired or travel with an impaired driver. Obey the speed limits and other traffic laws and wear your seatbelt. It does save lives,” Col. Evanchick added.
Officials hope today’s message in front of the DUI memorial replica will make individuals think twice before driving under the influence of not just alcohol, but any substance.
“Law enforcement also works to identify motorists that may be impaired by illegal drugs and prescription medications, or some combination thereof,” said Melissaa Batula, Acting Executive Deputy Secretary of PennDOT. “Our data shows that there were 106 alcohol-related crashes, resulting in four fatalities over the Labor Day holiday weekend last year. There were also 38 drug related crashes, resulting in three fatalities during the same weekend,” Batula added. “We want and need those numbers to be zero, and they should be zero.”
According to officials, Pennsylvania also has about 250 Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) who are on call to assist in the event of a law enforcement officer encountering a suspected impaired driver.
“These specially trained officers look for impaired drivers and assist in DUI investigations when drug impairment is suspected,” said Batula. “Impairment is impairment.”
Batula says everyone plays a role in preventing impaired driving and saving lives.
“Crashes involving impaired driving are 100 percent preventable,” said Batula.
The most important thing to do is plan ahead, especially if your plan involves alcohol. If that’s the case, officials say to make a plan for a sober driver, whether a friend or rideshare service, or even public transportation.
During this Labor Day holiday period, troopers and municipal agencies will conduct impaired driving enforcement details as part of a national impaired driving enforcement and education initiative running through Sep 5.