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DUI deaths down in area

All-time low 8 people died in alcohol-related crashes locally in 2020, statistics show

Getting behind the wheel after a few drinks can be fatal.

But PennDOT says fewer vehicle operators make the decision to drink and drive every year.

Alcohol-related deaths were at an all-time low in the area, as only eight people were killed in crashes as the result of alcohol in Bedford, Blair, Cambria and Clearfield counties in 2020, according to PennDOT statistics.

There is still work to do, but local officials believe they are combating impaired driving.

“There is so much time, effort and money that has gone into keeping people safe while they are on the road,” Cambria County District Attorney Greg Neugebauer said. “We’ve made a lot of strides with our DUI task force, and we are continuing to work hard to keep people safe.”

Far fewer people than usual traveled on the road last year, and the number of crashes statewide were much lower than recent years, according to PennDOT.

The area averaged more than 20 vehicle fatalities per year where alcohol was a factor between 2011-15, with 29 fatalities across the region in 2012.

Since then, the number of deaths has drastically fallen.

An average of less than nine people have been killed in alcohol-related crashes in the four-county region, and even with fewer people traveling due to COVID-19, officials said they do not think it’s a coincidence.

“Everyone knows by now that you’re not supposed to drink and drive,” Roaring Spring Police Chief Greg Wyandt said. “People know what the risks are, and they know what the consequences are.”

According to Pennsylvania State police, there was a 17% decrease in DUI arrests in 2020. A driver is guilty of DUI if he or she is impaired by any substance, state police said.

DUI task forces throughout the region deployed sobriety checkpoints last year, and although not as many criminals were apprehended as usual, officials believe the campaign was successful.

“Our DUI checkpoints are very effective in being a reminder of the risk and dangers of being impaired,” Neugebauer said. “Even if there are no arrests, a successful checkpoint reminds everyone to make good decisions and not put yourself or others at risk.”

Troopers certified as drug recognition experts receive specialized training to identify the physiological signs of impairment caused by a wide range of controlled substances, according to state police.

Logan Township Police Chief David Reese said even when sobriety checkpoints are not in place, officers are trained to constantly monitor driver behavior and identify potential signs of a driver under the influence.

Reese said officers are doing many duties when they are on the clock.

“While their attention is on their current call, they always have an eye out for DUI operators,” he said.

Recent advancements in technology have also made it easier for people under the influence to find a ride home rather than get behind the wheel. Services such as Uber and Lyft are available with a phone call, and officials credit them with the decline in accidents.

“There really is no excuse to drink and drive, especially with all the apps and services out there now,” Wyandt said. “There are so many options out there for people to find a way home without getting behind the wheel.”

The number of alcohol-related incidents continues to drop, and officials said they plan to increase their efforts in order to keep intoxicated drivers off the roads.

“We’re always watching for drunk drivers or people that have been drinking or could be under the influence,” Wyandt said. “That will never change.”

As alcohol-related accidents continue to decline, police have shifted plenty of their attention to combating distracted driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, eight people die every day as a result of distracted driving.

Texting and driving remains a major concern, but officials said there are many distracted driving habits that drivers have developed.

Officials said that eating and drinking, following a map on a cellphone, adjusting the radio and digging through a purse or a wallet all classify as distracted driving.

“One of the biggest issues on the road right now is distracted driving,” Neugebauer said. “People need to understand that glancing down at your phone for one or two seconds is all it takes to cause an accident.”

Just as they monitor driver behavior for potential alcohol-related impairment, police said they constantly search for any signs of distracted driving as well.

Accidents will always happen, but officials plan to keep them as minimal as possible.

“We want people to be safe and responsible on the road,” Reese said. “We have and will continue to do everything in our power to make sure that everyone comes home safe.”

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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