Why should a children’s hospital be involved in organizing drunk driving checkpoints, conducting senior driving workshops, or coordinating law enforcement crackdowns on aggressive driving? Because motor vehicle crashes are among the top 10 causes of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 64 and a leading cause of nonfatal injury at all ages. Between 2000 and 2005, 64,494 people in Cuyahoga County were injured and 373 were killed in motor vehicle crashes: that’s nearly 65,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. Whether or not there is a youngster in the vehicle, every crash impacts a child in some way. Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital wants children—and everyone who is important in a child’s life—to make it home safely.
That is why the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center serves as lead agency for the Cuyahoga County DUI Reduction Task Force and the Cuyahoga County Speed, Reckless, and Aggressive Driving Task Force, coalitions of 45 law enforcement agencies throughout the county that work together to make our roads safer by raising public awareness and aggressively enforcing Ohio’s laws.
As lead agency for these coalitions, Rainbow coordinates inter-agency law enforcement efforts and oversees planning and promotion of countywide campaigns to promote safe driving and discourage high-risk driving. Rainbow’s programs are based on state-of-the-art research on what works to discourage dangerous driving; its DUI Reduction Task Force has been nationally acclaimed for its innovative approaches, with recognition by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as one of the best DUI deterrence programs in the country and first-place wins for the past three years in the multi-jurisdictional category of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s National Law Enforcement Challenge.
While fewer than one in 10 crashes in Cuyahoga County is alcohol-related, one in every three traffic crash deaths involves an impaired driver. “Drinking and driving exacts a tragic toll on our community, yet Northeast Ohioans still tend to take pride in a hard-drinking, blue collar image,” says Kathryn Wesolowski, Program Manager for the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center. “Too often, driving under the influence is the object of jokes or is viewed as a right of passage.” Part of the DUI Reduction Task Force’s mission is to change those attitudes and make Greater Clevelanders think twice about getting behind the wheel after having a few drinks.
How does Rainbow do that? By working to educate the public and change attitudes through billboard messages, public service announcements, media stories and other efforts that highlight the dangers of impaired driving and make drinking and driving less socially acceptable. The DUI Task Force conducts coordinated, visible law enforcement crackdowns that use saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints to identify impaired drivers and get them off the road before they hurt themselves or someone else.
At sobriety checkpoints, officers evaluate drivers for indications of alcohol or drug impairment. Signs clearly mark the upcoming checkpoint well in advance and vehicles are stopped in a predetermined sequence, such as every fifth vehicle. A well-conducted checkpoint should not delay law-abiding motorists any more than a stop at a typical red light. Saturation patrols, in contrast, involve increased enforcement targeting a specific geographic area to identify and arrest impaired drivers, with officers looking for signs of impaired driving, like excessive speeding, weaving, or driving left of center.
Both checkpoints and saturation patrols work as deterrents by being highly visible and projecting the message that police are serious about DUI enforcement. “If people believe this message, they will think twice before getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking,” notes Chrystal Gullett, Coordinator of the Cuyahoga County DUI Reduction Task Force. “That’s why we work with the Task Force’s member agencies to make sure checkpoints are well publicized and get plenty of media exposure.”
The Task Force’s efforts are not all about catching those who break the law; they’re also about convincing people not to drink and drive in the first place. “For some people, the threat of a ticket or arrest—something that will hit them in their pocketbooks or seriously disrupt their lives—is the only thing that will work,” concedes Wesolowski, “but most people want to do the right thing. They just don’t give much thought to drinking and driving, or perhaps they think that having one or two drinks doesn’t effect their driving abilities.”
In Ohio, the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is .08; at .08, driver reaction time, visual function, information processing and judgment are seriously impaired—even if you do not feel drunk. That’s why Rainbow works with local restaurants and bars, sports venues, and other places where people combine alcohol with entertainment, to encourage people to make smart choices: if you’re going to be drinking, get a designated driver, take a cab or public transportation, or stay put.
By working to keep impaired drivers off the road, Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and the Cuyahoga County DUI Reduction Task Force are helping to ensure that more children—and more mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents—will make it home safely to their families.