Holiday weekends like Fourth of July or Labor Day bring thousands of people into Jackson County who want a chance to enjoy the parks and campgrounds.
The unfortunate part of bringing so many people in who are looking to enjoy themselves is the increased risk of drunk driving incidents.
On weekends like this, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies step up their presence in an effort to combat the problem.
“Drivers impaired by alcohol, prescription medication, or other drugs endanger everyone,” said Sheriff Duane Waldera. “During the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over initiative, our officers will patrol in greater numbers and for longer hours to help prevent impaired drivers from killing or injuring themselves or an innocent victim.”
According to information from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, there were over 24,700 convictions for drunken driving in Wisconsin last year.
Sargent Evan Mazur with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said it isn’t about just arresting people though, it’s about changing the culture around drinking.
“When we do these, I don’t ask the deputies to change their habits or hand out more tickets,” Mazur said. “We just want to increase our presence and let people know that we are out there.”
Labor Day weekend falls under the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign that works in tandem with agencies to provide grants for extra patrols and overtime hours.
In years like this one where the sheriff’s office might not receive the grants, they still provide statistics to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and DOT along with having the officers out and patrolling the county.
“It’s very helpful to have those grants,” Mazur said.
He explained that by getting the grants, the sheriff’s office can put money in other programs that might help them get equipment like traffic safety vests.
Grants and funds from these programs can mean a lot to a small agency making the best of what they can with a tight budget.
It’s still important to the sheriff’s office that they are out and visible on busy weekends like this, according to data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 2009 to 2013, alcohol impaired driving accounted for 22 percent of driving deaths.
“I’ve been doing this 15 years and I used to arrest 50 to 60 people a year for drunk driving and other people were doing similar numbers,” Mazur said. “It’s not like that anymore, it’s a good sign that hopefully we’re gaining ground on it.”
In counties like Jackson, the problem is made a little tougher as there is not only the local population, but a large number of people moving through the county and a lot of road to cover for the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office isn’t alone though as state patrol and other agencies help where they can, which Mazur is grateful for.
Finding drunk drivers also isn’t as easy as just finding someone swerving a little bit and stopping them. In reality, deputies follow cars for a bit to see if they notice other errant driving, and even then drinking may not be the issue, it could be looking at a cell phone or someone who is simply tired.
Mazur has been noticing a shift in culture over the years though that hopefully point to things getting better.
Part of the change has been due to the rise of cell phones and more people willing to call in problems when they see them, and the rise of services like Uber and Lyft have been able to provide people with rides home.
There’s also things like party buses or taxi services that provide safe rides home for people who may have drank one too many.
“Some of what we’re seeing too is more and more people calling us and saying ‘Hey my buddy’s trying to drive drunk, we don’t want you to arrest him but can you come down and talk some sense into him?’” Mazur said.
As with every Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over event, the hope is to continue battling the drinking culture in Wisconsin and getting more people to be smarter and safer when it comes to drinking and getting themselves home.