By Brian Mainzinger
The issue of drunk driving continues to be a concern for citizens as well as lawmakers, and while different communities try different solutions, the city of Novi has seen success by using both the law and education.
“The city of Novi, its elected officials, community members, business members and the men and women of the Novi Police Department use a multifaceted approach to help reduce drunk driving incidents,” said Victor Lauria, assistant chief of police.
“While enforcement is one component, it is by no means the only tool we have in our toolbox,” Lauria said in a recent email interview.
“The police department’s record staff compile data on the location where the intoxicated driver was drinking prior to their arrest. This information is obtained by the arresting officer at the time of the arrest. By analyzing this data, we are able to identify establishments/locations which may be over-serving patrons. We work with the business’s management team to educate employees on the responsible service, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages,” he said.
Business owners are not the only ones being educated. “Our officers routinely participate in the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Impact Panel, which meets at the city’s civic center. These meetings are held to educate people who have been arrested for alcohol-related driving offenses on the dangers of drunk driving,” Lauria said.
Some drivers agree education is important, but that harsher sentencing sends a stronger message. “One life lost to a drunk driver is too many,” said Nada Toma of West Bloomfield, who works in Novi.
“I worry about innocent people getting killed because of this. It is not fair that drunk drivers are not responsible. We need harsher punishments for offenders. Driving can be unsafe as it is, and then adding alcohol makes things much worse. I think people tend to forget that driving is a privilege,” she said.
In contrast, Michelle Burman of Monroe, who travels to Novi often for work, said she thinks there is not enough education.
“My children were involved in programs such as D.A.R.E in fifth grade. This was a great anti-drug program. When they got to high school, there was not that much education, and it is during high school that I think the pressure to drink gets stronger. For kids who don’t have strong support at home, it is then that some bad habits can form, and bad decisions made, such as drinking and driving,” she said.
“And then when kids turn 21, society sends this message that you have to drink, in a sense. This coupled with the fact that at this age, often kids feel invincible.... It’s a dangerous combination,” Burman said.
Lauria said Novi provides several educational programs to reduce youth drunk driving. For example, “the Novi Youth Council, in cooperation with the police department and the Novi Community School District, puts on two programs a year which address the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers.”
In addition, “Novi has also recently started using a Choose Your Ride vehicle as a means of educating the public,” Lauria said. “The vehicle is half police car and half taxi. The taxi side represents a ride costing $20 and the police car side costing the arrested individual over $10,000.”
Lauria said this vehicle is driven around the community and displayed outside bars and festivals where alcohol is consumed.
When asked about the efforts compared to the results, Lauria said: “Last year we did see a 14% decrease in the number of people arrested for drunk driving. It is hard to determine what to attribute this reduction to. It is probably a combination of people understanding the dangers of drunk driving, costs associated with being arrested and having fewer officers on the street than the previous year.”
About this story: Brian Mainzinger covered this issue for a public affairs reporting class at Wayne State University. The information was edited by instructor Alex Cruden and provided to Novi Patch, which partners with the university by publishing the promising work of its students. Mainzinger is a junior from Monroe majoring in journalism with a minor in near east studies.