On Mississippi roadways, the New Year seems to have rung in several emerging trends in drunk driving. Over this holiday season, the Mississippi Highway Patrol was called to the scene of 39 accidents across the state. Twenty-one of these accidents involved injuries but only four were alcohol related. No fatalities occurred. Despite a low number of alcohol related accidents, the state Highway Patrol arrested 57 individuals for DUI and issued 1,331 over the New Year’s holiday.
From these numbers, Mississippi Highway Patrol officers are noticing a new trend—more people are being arrested for DUIs but fewer are dying due to drunk driving. The number of drunk driving deaths over the past few years seems to support this theory. In 2007, 385 people were killed by drunk drivers. In 2010, that number dropped to 235.
Lee County Sherriff Jim Johnson, whose office made 16 driving and drinking arrests over New Year’s, hypothesized that the decline in drunk driving deaths and uptick in arrests is due to more officers patrolling, better training for officers, and more ways to catch offenders. Johnson cited the presence of cell phones in vehicles as having a positive impact in this instance, as drivers of today can, and often do, call in reports of unsafe driving or suspected drunk driving.
Passage of the DUI death law in 1994 is also a potential factor in the decreasing rate of DUI deaths. Mississippi’s DUI death law states that if an offender commits a DUI that causes the death of another, the offender will be found guilty of a felony and be sentenced to between five and 25 years. This harsh law is designed to hold those who elect to drive drunk responsible for the horrific consequences their actions wrought. It seems to have had the desired effect of causing some individuals to think twice before getting behind the wheel drunk.
Though the decline in DUI fatalities and increase in arrests is a positive trend, a few negative trends have also emerged. One new problem faced by Highway Patrol officers is unpredictable drinking times. Drunk driving used to be a weekend night activity, enabling patrolmen to target these times. Recently, however, deputies are arresting intoxicated drivers at all times of the day, including early morning.
The increasing use of prescription medication has also presented new challenges to officers. Any drug which acts on the brain and central nervous system can impair a driver’s motor skills and reaction time, making for unsafe driving. A recent National Roadside Survey conducted by National Highway Safety Administration found that more than 18% of drivers on the roads during the weekend and nighttime tested positive for prescription, illegal, or over the counter drugs.
Sheriff Johnson expounded on the potential danger of Mississippi driver ingesting these prescription drugs than getting behind the wheel. He stated that individuals take prescription drugs at all times of day and many are not detectable, unlike alcohol. This makes the officer’s task of protecting innocent drivers more complex.
In Mississippi, being caught drunk behind the wheel will come at a large cost. A first offense costs $720.50. The second will run you $1,320. Your license will be suspended and you will be required to attend a driver education program. If you are arrested a third time, you will be charged with a felony and face up to five years imprisonment.
At the Giddens Law Firm, we have represented thousands of drunk driving accident victims. We know firsthand the devastating impact drunk drivers can have on innocent Mississippi residents. If you have been injured in an accident involving a suspected drunk driver, the Giddens Law Firm can help you obtain a full and complete recovery while holding the negligent driver accountable. Call us today at (601) 355-2022 to learn more about your legal options, rights and responsibilities. We look forward to providing you with superior legal representation.