SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA (WFXR) — Even with a pandemic taking over most of 2020, the number of drunk driving deaths in Virginia is higher than it was in 2019.
Kurt Erickson, the project director for Virginia’s Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign, a 22-year seasonal campaign designed to curve alcohol-related deaths during the holiday season, says from Jan. 1 to Dec. 8 in 2019, the number of deaths was at 249.
That same snapshot in 2020, deaths were up to 253.
“That’s a gigantic concern,” Erickson said. “It’s demonstrative that clearly drunk drivers are not self quarantining, and it’s an issue for this evening when you already have high potential for increased drunk driving incidents for everybody.”
The City of Roanoke was no stranger to this rise in numbers, according to Erickson.
“Roanoke saw an increase in drunk driving fatalities, an increase in drunk driving injuries… more than a 34% increase in these 100% preventable drunk driving incidents.”
To combat this, local and state law enforcement have brought all hands on deck the past two weeks, leading up to New Year’s Eve.
Erickson said, in total, around 700 saturation patrols will have been deployed, 103 in Roanoke, and over 100 sobriety checkpoints, with eight in Roanoke.
“If they’re (NYE participants) going to be out and if they’re going to be consuming alcohol, we want them to plan a safe ride home before they go out,” Erickson said.
Alcohol-related traffic deaths make up one in four traffic deaths across the country — 28% more specifically.
Come New Year’s Eve, that figure jumps up to 39%.
Penalties for a D.U.I., even if you’re a first-time offender, are significant.
“You’re talking about upwards of $2,500 in fines, up to a year in jail, and having your license taken away for a year,” Erickson said.
The main time window law enforcement will be on the lookout for is midnight to 6 a.m.