The numbers are staggering.
South Carolina is second in the nation for most DUI-related traffic deaths. Last year, nearly half of the state's 920 highway fatalities were attributed to drunken drivers, the S.C. Highway Patrol said.
State officials are taking a three-pronged approach to change that.
Legislators enacted a tougher DUI law earlier this year, and on Wednesday the Highway Patrol announced the launch of a DUI-prevention media blitz and seven regional teams of troopers that will fan out across the state to get intoxicated drivers off the roads.
The troopers are the most skilled enforcers of the DUI law, and they will be assigned exclusively to catching drunken drivers, Highway Patrol Capt. Chris Williamson said. The
number of members in each team will vary from region to region, and while they will each cover an expansive area, they will have help from other troopers during DUI operations.
"They will isolate the issue and focus on the problem, not for a week or a month, but for as long as it takes to solve the problem," Williamson said.
The teams will take to the streets for the first time tonight and will work throughout the Independence Day weekend, hitting the known holiday "hot spots," Williamson said.
The beginning for the DUI trooper teams coincides with the start of a S.C. Department of Public Safety media campaign aimed at educating the public about drinking and driving.
In the coming weeks, public service announcements and pictures of people who have been killed by drunken drivers will inundate radio and television, billboards and movie theaters. Also, law enforcement officers will start handing motorists their traffic tickets in a ticket sleeve that has the photograph of a DUI victim.
"The lives of the family members left behind will be forever altered," Williamson said.
A new South Carolina DUI law took effect Feb. 10. It requires higher fines and jail time based on the level of intoxication; attendance at a drug and alcohol program to get your driver's license back after a DUI conviction; and six-month suspension of a driver's license for a person who refuses to take a Breathalyzer test, Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Bob Beres said.
While state officials do all they can to prevent intoxicated driving, the people of the state have a responsibility as well, Beres said.
"Law enforcement will do its part, but the drivers can do their part, and that's not getting behind the wheel if they are drunk," he said.