According to the Mississippi Department of Transportation website, in 2016, drunk driving fatalities represented 18 percent of total traffic deaths in Mississippi. America has more drunk drivers than most countries have people. And each year, more than 10,000 people die on our roadways due to drunk driving. The site says that is the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing each year.
Drinking and driving is a big issue in Mississippi. “A driver is illegally under the influence of alcohol if his or her blood-alcohol content level is more than .08 percent,” the website unofficialalcohol.org reports.
Officer Jeff McCutchen, 36, is a major of operations with the Oxford Police Department. The New Albany native supervises the patrol and detective divisions. He said officers usually look for classic signs of intoxication, which leads to an investigation. He said drinking and driving is a big problem everywhere.
“People really do not realize how alcohol affects their reaction time,” he said. “A driver is doing a lot of things while they are driving and (they are) not realizing how alcohol is affecting everything.”
Since 2002, There have been five to seven DUI-related deaths in Oxford, McCutchen said, adding that citizens should never drink and drive since there are many options, such as Uber, taxis, and shuttle buses.
“Game weekends hype things up just because of the atmosphere and the amount of people,” McCutchen said. “Drinking and driving is extremely expensive.”
According to Mississippi drunk driving laws, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a person is driving under the influence, or they must be driving through a sobriety checkpoint in order to stop a citizen. Many drunk driving incidents happen during the holidays when people are traveling to celebrate with friends and family.
In Mississippi, a first offense DUI is a misdemeanor, but several fines and penalties follow. According to duiprocess.com, a first offense DUI in Mississippi may require you to spend up to 48 hours in jail, and fines can be $250 to $1,000 with additional court costs. Mississippi also requires first offenders to attend an alcohol safety program, and pay the cost of the program.
McCutchen said harming someone in the process of drinking and driving can be even more expensive. He said attorney fees can easily exceed $10,000 for one night of not thinking about putting your friends or someone else at risk. He said drinking and driving can be a life-altering event that can be easily avoided.
“The result is all of the what ifs,” he said. “If people would think about all the what ifs, and put yourself in someone else’s shoes to recognize how much a life-changing experience that would be.”
Bishop Lewis is the crime prevention coordinator for the University Police Department at the University of Mississippi. Lewis said campus officers try to prevent drinking and driving through programs.
“Students like the program that uses the beer goggles that simulate you being impaired because of alcohol or drugs,” he said.
Lewis said drinking and driving is a bigger problem on football game days because of the crowd.
“We do have an issue with intoxicated students,” he said, “but with just intoxicated people in general. Most people get on campus, but our concern is people getting off campus.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, from 2003−2012, there were 2,560 people killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Mississippi.