Steep increase in drunk driving arrests aimed at stopping tragedies

University Park, Pa. -- Early Friday morning, Oct. 3, four different cars were stopped on campus by University police in which the drivers were arrested for driving while drunk. The four cars driven by suspected drunk drivers were pulled off campus roads between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

All told there were seven cars stopped on campus roads and their drivers charged with drunk driving during the three-day weekend period.

State College Borough Police arrested 12 drunk drivers on area roads during the weekend.

This busy weekend mirrors a recent report on drunk driving arrest trends by campus and State College Borough Police during the past three years.

The total number of drunk driving arrests on campus and in the borough rose from 291 in 2000, to 329 in 2001, and to 383 in 2002. And just nine months into 2003 the campus and borough police have already exceeded 12 months of drunk driving arrests for 2002. Campus and borough police made 403 drunk driving arrests from January through September 2003.

"If we can get drunk drivers off the road before they kill or injure themselves or other drivers and pedestrians we can prevent a lot of tragedies," said Tom Harmon, director of University Police at Penn State.

"A number of students and employees have been killed or seriously injured by drunk drivers over the years and that is a loss to Penn State as well as to their families and friends," Harmon said. "When out on patrol our officers don't have to look long and hard to find drunk drivers on campus roads. They readily come to our attention because of their impaired driving."

Tom King, chief of police for State College Borough said, "Identifying drunk drivers is a high priority for our department. Many of us have seen too many senseless tragedies at the hands of drunk drivers. As a police community, we need to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible for those who live and visit here."

Asked if he feels the recent change in law that lowers the blood alcohol content for a charge of drunk driving will have an impact on next year's figures, Harmon said no.

"Many of the drunk driving arrests we see here on campus involve underage drunk drivers, so lowering the limit slightly will not have an impact on those arrests -- those drivers are too young to be legally drinking any alcohol.

"And in terms of the drivers we arrest who are 21 and older, most of them tend to have blood alcohol levels that already far exceed the former legal level, so a slightly lower thresh-hold will not have an impact on our arrest numbers significantly. These tend not to be borderline cases of drunk driving. These arrests are typically people who clearly should not be behind the wheel of a car. They present a danger to the public and to themselves."

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For a graphic illustrating the steep increase in DUI arrests since 2000, check Penn State Live at http://live.psu.edu/still_life/10_06_03_dui/index.html

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Last Updated March 19, 2009