Cops Wage Labor Day War On Drunk Drivers

By Will Godfrey 09/06/11

A national campaign to discourage drunk driving over the Labor Day period aims for more than damage-limitation.

Drunk driving: steady since 1995 Photo via

Backed by the threatening slogan, "They'll see you before you see them," cops have been hunting down drunk drivers all across the country over the Labor Day weekend. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), around 11,000 Americans are killed by drunk drivers every year—other estimates are higher. And while the proportion of motor vehicle fatalities involving a driver at 0.08 BAC or more fell from 46% to 36% between 1985 and 1995, the figure has remained steady ever since. This led to a massive "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign from NHTSA, involving thousands of law enforcement agencies, and publicity including hard-hitting TV commercials aimed at men aged between 21 and 34—the biggest culprits. August 19 to September 5 was the designated "maximum enforcement period," running at a time traditionally known for getting behind the wheel when drunk. Many states and counties have been announcing tallies for DUI arrests during the period: Connecticut reported 44 DUI arrests over Labor Day weekend at press time, for example; in Denver more than 700 DUI arrests had been made since mid-August; Arizona topped 1,000 in the same period; 1399 Labor Day weekend DUI arrests by the California Highway Patrol narrowly surpassed last year, with three deaths reported in LA, and five DUI arrests made by one San Pedro checkpoint in a single hour on Sunday afternoon. Individual incidents include a dramatic minivan chase in Pittsburgh, while a woman in Chicago allegedly drank six vodkas before getting in a car and putting a cyclist in critical condition on Thursday. The maximum enforcement period ended at 11:59 last night. As the dust settles and the human cost of drunk driving in the Labor Day period is assessed, campaigners will hope for a national change of attitude, similar to the one that has seen a huge increase in seat belt use in the last two decades. “We’re taking the gloves off on drunk driving,’’ Nicole R. Nason, the NHTSA administrator, told the New York Times. “This country has made tremendous strides against drunk driving through the 1980s and into the early 1990s. But the numbers have been flat for the last decade.’’

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.