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Jax Daily Record Friday, May 27, 201612:00 PM EST

Grant for Jacksonville Sheriff's Office will turn into big boost in DUI enforcement

by: David Chapman

Flashing lights, slowed traffic and detour signs are common sights along Jacksonville roadways.

Over the next two years, though, they might not indicate the typical roadwork or construction project.

It could very likely be a DUI checkpoint.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office typically conducts one to two of the enforcement checkpoints annually, but those efforts will be massively ramped up to as many as 65 over the next two years.

The boost comes from an almost $497,000 grant from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit that uses scientific knowledge and practices to improve safety and well-being in communities.

It wasn’t a rash of alcohol or drug-related car crashes that landed Jacksonville the grant, though.

It was motorcycle crashes involving the substances, particularly an increase in single motorcycle accidents.

Last year, there were a total of eight fatal accidents of that variety — and seven of them were influenced by drugs or alcohol.

The 88 percent clip was well above other DUI categories. For instance, single motor vehicle crashes in 2015 resulted in 35 deaths, but 57 percent were from alcohol or drugs. Vehicle-on-vehicle crashes resulted in 39 deaths, but only 31 percent were DUI-related.

So far this year, there are four fatal single motorcycle accidents with alcohol and drug test results pending.

Ray Walden, the sheriff’s office department of patrol and enforcement director, said statistics over the past several years have shown a decrease in total DUI cases but an increase in those involving motorcycles.

He said there’s been a similar trend in other cities across the U.S., too, despite DUI rates falling.

The Pacific Institute grant will provide an opportunity for education, awareness and enforcement strategies to curb not just motorcycle-related DUIs, but all kinds of DUIs. Jacksonville is the first and only city in the U.S. to receive the grant, something Walden attributes to the size of the agency and Florida being a year-round riding state.

Public critics of the grant when it was being reviewed by City Council said the idea of targeting motorcyclists is unconstitutional. However, the enforcement portion of the program isn’t targeting anyone specifically, Walden said.

Instead, it’s the messaging and marketing efforts funded by the Pacific Institute that will make motorcyclists more aware of the dangers of riding impaired. The sheriff’s office will use motorcycle crash data to determine where the sobriety checkpoints need to be conducted.

The enforcement method at those sites will be the same as at other stops — every vehicle could be stopped or a certain number of vehicles could be stopped. It will have to be an established pattern.

Like the red-light camera program and past checkpoints, these will be publicly noticed.

The grant will cover overtime hours for the officers and equipment such as lighting and signboards for the operations. The grant did not require a local match.

Data will be used by the institute to see if the targeted messaging influences statistics, but Walden said his hope is for an overall decline in DUIs among all motorists.

Council approved the funding Tuesday and Walden said the next step is a goal of having the first additional checkpoints up and running by August. Marketing for the effort should happen sooner.

Jacksonville vehicle crashes

YearTotal CrashesAlcohol/Drug RelatedPercentage
201612,2021971.61 percent
201532,3295271.63 percent
201432,4875711.76 percent
201334,3876711.95 percent

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