Last year in Iowa, 110 people were killed in traffic crashes involving a drunk or drug-impaired driver. But, Jessica Lown, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, says the potential exists for even more drunk driving fatalities.
Since 1993, Iowa law enforcement officers have averaged 20,000 OWI arrests a year. Lown says that figure is often overshadowed by the number of fatalities. "When somebody loses their life, it’s tragic for sure, but what Iowans need to realize is that the potential for loss of life is even greater," Lown said. "When officers are making 20,000 OWI arrests a year, that should just anger everyone because that’s 20,000 different incidents where there’s a driver that could be taking another life."
Starting today, and running through Labor Day, law enforcement agencies will have an increased presence on Iowa roadways. Lown says, during the special Traffic Enforcement Program – or sTEP, officers will be looking for motorists who’ve had too much to drink.
Lown says the dates for the enforcement project were chosen because many Iowans are spending the time at end-of-summer parties or vacations. "Sometimes that leads to bad decision making and bad judgment," Lown said. "They’re enjoying the summer, but maybe they’re having a few too many drinks and getting behind the wheel. We want to remind Iowans that’s a bad decision."
The statewide STEP, which is federally funded, will involve officers working overtime. In addition to the focus on drunk drivers, officers were be on the watch for speeders and seatbelt violations. "Our seatbelt usage rate in the state of Iowa is at 91.8 percent I believe, but we want to get it even higher. We want to get it up to 100 percent," Lown said.
The special enforcement effort also includes the use of electric signs along roads near Ames, Mason City, Sioux City, Iowa City, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities and the Des Moines metro. The signs flash the messages "Over the Limit, Under Arrest" and "Don’t Drink and Drive."