The 2013 Southern Connecticut Conference on the Prevention of Alcohol-Impaired Driving: the Crossroads of Technology and Practice emphasized the necessity of integrating and increasing alcohol-impaired driving prevention efforts. Echoed by several speakers was the importance of collaboration between law enforcement, educators, and community organizations to address the problem before it starts and more effectively when it does occur.
Morning keynote speaker, Dr. Anne McCartt, Senior Vice President of Research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) outlined current and forthcoming prevention technology. She detailed the importance of advanced in-vehicle technology like ignition locks, devices that stop a vehicle from starting when alcohol is detected, and can be installed in the cars of DUI offenders and possibly someday be included as standard equipment in all new cars.
Though the probability of ignition locks being included in all automobiles is uncertain, McCartt said that the threat of having them installed upon a DUI conviction is shown to have a “general deterrent effect.” This, she said, points to the importance of introducing legislation that would include such a consequence for all people convicted of a DUI and would encourage the general population to refrain from alcohol-impaired driving.
Afternoon keynote speaker, James Fell, Senior Research Scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), said that securing widespread use of preventative measures like ignition locks will depend on rallying the political support to do so. Fell called for a courageous lawmaker to rekindle the prevention efforts with new legislation such as lowering the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit 0.05% from the current 0.08%.
Stable alcohol-related fatality rates indicate the need to rethink current methods of prevention, and lack of public enthusiasm for something that could be effective, like lowering the legal BAC poses a significant challenge.
“We need a champion,” Fell said, “but do we have the political will?”
Enforcement and Collaboration, Speaker Highlights
Lieutenant Joseph Witkowski of the New Haven Police Department emphasized the need for high saturation patrolling and other methods of highly visible enforcement, especially at peak drunk driving times. He repeated the importance of general deterrence, saying that collaboration with media to publicize checkpoints can be an effective method of discouraging drunk driving. Witkowski also pointed out the value of increasing awareness through joining with community groups.
Eddie Hedge, Law Enforcement Liaison to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, discussed the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program to improve methods of identifying impaired driving due to drugs and substances other than alcohol. According to Hedge, police officers lack training on how to recognize impairments due to drug-impaired driving, a deficit that allows dangerous drivers to remain on the roads.
Speaker Dr. Neil Chaudhary, Vice President of Preusser Research Group, Inc. talked about recent research on recidivism. Preliminary findings indicate that individuals who avoid first-time DUI conviction are very likely to be repeat offenders. According to Chaudhary, the findings pose questions about the nature of recidivism and the deterrent effect of consequences if they are avoided the first time around. He said that research should continue to get a national picture of this trend.
Gathering information on alcohol related crashes is a large effort. Dr. Eric Jackson of the University of New Haven has worked to compile and catalogue newly available alcohol related traffic data and insert it into a usable database. His efforts will make crash data for the state of Connecticut available for prevention and education efforts.
Yale’s Dr. Federico Vaca, conference host, has joined in the effort to make the data accessible by creating fact sheets that detail drunk driving statistics for towns throughout New Haven County. According to Vaca, he hopes the fact sheets will be used by police and the community at large to increase awareness about alcohol-impaired driving.
Dr. John DeCarlo of the University of New Haven discussed variations on prevention that can be useful in the wake of budget cuts that limit Police Departments’ ability to patrol. He highlighted Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), a practice that uses things like speed bumps to prevent speeding and reckless driving. According to DeCarlo, research supports using CPTED where more traditional policing has failed.
The theme of prevention was repeated by Executive Director of the Connecticut State Office of MADD Janice Heggie Margolis and Program Specialist Allison Champlin. Margolis stressed the importance of prominent partnerships between law enforcement and organizations focused on alcohol-impaired driving prevention.
According to Champlin, prevention efforts that focus on early intervention through programs designed for early adolescents and teens, like the Power of Parents and Power of You(th) programs, are a significant part of MADD’s efforts. These programs focus in part on cultural message related to alcohol, delivered through media or peer groups, and how kids can resist the idea that drinking is necessary or cool.
Catherine Barden of Madison Alcohol and Drug Education Coalition (M.A.D.E in Madison) described the impact that her organization has made in reducing teen drinking through programs that encourage engagement by both teens and parents. According to Barden, facilitating communication between schools, parents, and students encourages kids who otherwise wouldn’t be involved in anti-drinking efforts to become active.
The conference was hosted by the Yale Department of Emergency Medicine Center for Injury Prevention and Control Research, which is supported in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Yale Department of Emergency Medicine, and Yale-New Haven Hospital.