Every major holiday, the New Car Dealers of Utah proudly send out a press release announcing a donation to the Utah Highway Patrol to cover additional shifts to catch drunken drivers. The New Car Dealers, made up of 150 franchised new-car dealers in Utah, will again hand off $5,000 to the troopers on Dec. 31 in the UHP Murray offices.
The press release lauds the donation, noting that over the previous Labor Day weekend, "there were 216 DUI arrests, 29 alcohol restricted-driver citations, 5,119 vehicles stopped and a total of 461 trooper shifts. ... The strong message is that if you plan to drink, plan to have a ride home."
But if the message were really that strong, by now, there should be no need for extra staffing. Every driver in the land would know and would simply not drink and drive. But since people do continue to drive drunk, the message is either not strong enough or is not getting through.
So why donate money to the UHP? UHP is a state agency that is already funded by taxpayers. Staffing for holiday weekends should be decided upon out of a concern for public safety, not by whether an outside entity offers to pay for a special type of enforcement.
By the same token, why don't New Car Dealers pay for additional UHP coverage on LDS conference weekends to ensure drivers to and from downtown Salt Lake City adhere to the posted speed limits? The interests of public safety would be served by having conference attendees pass through a "seat belt checkpoint."
Pardon my cynicism, but increased DUI enforcement has got to be about the money. 216 DUI arrests (if convicted) translates conservatively into about $250,000 in fines paid to the state. And this is nothing compared to what those arrested pay to attorneys, drug and alcohol counselors and insurance agents (who charge drivers top dollar to ensure them). As CW reporter Stephen Dark described in his 2010 "Super Trooper" cover story, getting a DUI can easily become an existential nightmare. And yet, even with myriad and draconian deterrents in place, people still drive drunk.
Thus, it's obvious that more money, more troopers, more enforcement do not keep drunk drivers off the road.
If the New Car Dealers really wanted to achieve its goal of reducing drunk driving -- and make a positive impression in the community -- they'd set up tables outside of bars offering free and friendly Breathalyzers so people could see the results before they drive. Then they'd offer cab rides to the ones who don't pass.
As dealers, they could demand more be spent on car manufacturing innovation to prevent cars from operating if drivers are above a certain alcohol limit. There are better ways to go about this. But until we as a society figure it out, I'd best just sign off with: Try to avoid bringing in the new year with the UHP.