Drunken driving incidents in Rock Hill increased by 27 percent in 2007, and police believe the spike is a result of more enforcement on the roadways.
From December 2006 to December 2007, Rock Hill police stopped 349 drunken drivers, according to police data. That's 75 more than the previous year.
But police don't believe more drivers are traveling intoxicated. Lt. Mike Peek, head of the Rock Hill Police Department's traffic unit, said his unit has doubled in size since 2006, resulting in more drunken drivers being caught. Peek said the traffic unit landed a state grant that paid for its increase to four full-time traffic officers in 2007, up from two traffic officers in 2006.
Because so many factors play into the DUI statistics, Peek said it's nearly impossible to determine the exact cause of the increase. But without any direct evidence that more drunks are driving, Peek said the increase of officers on the road is a sound conclusion.
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"I would hope the reason for the increase is because we're doing a better job of getting out there," he said.
With more police on the road this year, Peek said officers conducted more checkpoints and saturated roads known for drunken drivers more effectively in 2007.
While police tout stepped up patrols for catching more offenders, data shows it hasn't changed the percentage of alcohol-related deaths on the road.
Half of deaths alcohol-related
Lance Cpl. Ron Johnson of the S.C. Highway Patrol said his office has investigated 18 fatal collisions in York County this year. Of those, nine have been ruled alcohol-related.
"We talk about it every year," Johnson said. "Fifty percent of (traffic) deaths are caused in part by alcohol."
More awareness of deputies' presence on York County's roadways caused DUI arrests to dip in 2007 for the York County Sheriff's Office, said Sgt. Chris Blevins of the county's traffic unit. Blevins said a concentrated effort in recent years to host checkpoints and stop suspected drunken drivers has become a deterrent for many drivers.
So far in 2007, the Sheriff's Office has arrested 149 people for driving while intoxicated, Blevins said, compared to 190 arrests total in 2006.
"There's more deputies on the road and there's more deterrent," Blevins said.
Blevins said drivers once believed sheriff's deputies wouldn't pull vehicles over for traffic violations. He said that attitude is changing.
"People know now if they're driving drunk, the Sheriff's Office will pull them over and they will be arrested," he said.