The 27 percent in the number Rock Hill DUIs is good news.
Yes, you read that right. The significant increase in the number of people cited locally for driving under the influence is good news indeed.
The reason is simple. As Lt. Mike Peek, head of the Rock Hill Police Department's traffic unit explained, the increase is the result of better enforcement.
From December 2006 to December 2007, Rock Hill police stopped 349 drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That is 75 more than the previous year.
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But -- and this is crucial -- police don't believe the increase is the result of more drunken drivers. Rather, it is the result of more full-time traffic officers and new strategies for nailing drunken drivers.
Peek concedes that it is impossible to categorically rule out the possibility of more people driving under the influence as one factor in the increase in arrests. With growth in the area, that is a possibility.
But Peek and others in the department make a persuasive case for better enforcement. Last year, the traffic unit received a state grant that paid for the addition of two new full-time traffic officers to bring the total to four.
With more manpower, officers could conduct more checkpoints last year. They also could do a more effective job of staking out roads known for drunken drivers.
While enhanced enforcement resulted in more DUI arrests last year, it could have a deterrent effect -- reducing the number of arrests -- over the long haul. That appears to have been what happened in the county.
York County deputies have had a higher profile on county roads in recent years. Like the Rock Hill Police Department, the Sheriff's Office has concentrated its efforts on checkpoints and areas where drunken driving had been more prevalent.
Sgt. Chris Blevins of the county's traffic unit said that drivers once believed that deputies wouldn't pull vehicles over for traffic violations. But that attitude has changed, and people are more aware that deputies will arrest them if they are caught driving drunk.
As of Dec. 30, the Sheriff's Office had arrested 149 people for driving while intoxicated. That was down from 190 arrests in 2006.
Again, this is good news. If law enforcement agencies are doing a better job of stopping drunk drivers and if that is deterring people from driving under the influence, then everyone benefits.
The bad news? About half of all highway fatalities are alcohol-related, and that was no exception in York County last year. Of 18 fatal collisions in York County in 2007, nine involved alcohol.
We hope that is one statistic that will go down in 2008.
Rise in DUI arrests during 2007 appear to be the result of better enforcement, not more drunks.
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