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The North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Initiative: Initial Results from "Booze It and Lose It"

Allan F. Williams, JoAnn K. Wells and Robert D. Foss

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 1005 N. Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22201, USA

This work was supported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

ABSTRACT

The North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Initiative is a multiyear program intended to reduce motor vehicle crashes and injuries through publicity/enforcement programs aimed at increasing seat belt use, reducing alcohol-impaired driving, and reducing high speed driving. In 1993-94, a two-stage statewide program involving 6,364 seat belt checkpoints and 58,883 citations increased seat belt use to over 80 percent.

The first round of a similarly intensive program addressing alcohol-impaired driving is being launched in November 1994. It features a three-week statewide program of heavy enforcement with checkpoints and roving saturation patrols and extensive publicity about the enforcement. Four emphasis areas - cities or counties within the state - are receiving additional treatment.

Pre- and post-program on-the-road surveys of drinking and driving, and before and after telephone surveys are being used to measure the initial effects of the alcohol program.

This paper describes the development and evolution of the Governor's Highway Safety Initiative, the alcohol program, and survey results documenting the effects of the first of several anticipated cycles of concentrated, highly publicized enforcement.

SAFETY INITIATIVE

The North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Initiative is a multiyear enforcement and publicity program with the goals of reducing motor vehicle injuries, controlling their costs, and providing a blueprint that could be followed by other states. The initiative involves a public-private partnership consisting of: the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program, automobile insurers and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner's Office, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center.

During the first two years of the initiative, programs separately addressing seat belt use and alcohol-impaired driving were launched. In later stages of the program, speeding and truck safety enforcement may be targeted as well. The primary technique used in addressing these behaviors is enhanced law enforcement, i.e., high-intensity, well-publicized enforcement efforts. The fall 1993 and summer 1994 rounds of the seat belt law enforcement program, called "Click It or Ticket," resulted in 6,364 seat belt checkpoints, 58,883 citations for nonuse of belts, an increase in belt use from 64 to 81 percent, an estimated reduction of 45 fatalities and 320 serious injuries in the first six months, and estimated medical cost savings of more than $7 million (Williams, Reinfurt, and Wells, 1994).

The first phase of the program addressing alcohol-impaired driving, named "Booze It and Lose It," took place in November and December 1994. It included a three-week enforcement blitz that included paid radio, newspaper, and television advertising about the enforcement, statewide checkpoints, and roving saturation patrols. As in the seat belt program, there was a coordinated enforcement effort involving local police departments, sheriffs' offices, the state highway patrol, and other enforcement agencies. Four demonstration areas -- cities or counties representing various regions of North Carolina -- included additional activities, such as the use of passive alcohol sensors.

North Carolina has been one of the leading states in addressing alcohol-impaired driving. It has conducted sobriety checkpoints on a large scale, and the percentage of fatally injured drivers with high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC>= 0.10) has decreased from 47 percent in 1983 to 27 percent in 1993, a greater decrease than occurred nationwide. "Booze It and Lose It" was intended to raise alcohol enforcement activities to substantially higher levels during its initial three-week period.

Before and after data on drinking and driving were collected in conjunction with sobriety checkpoints being held for enforcement purposes. Using this technique, breath test data were obtained from drivers randomly selected as they arrived at checkpoints. If the police detained and tested a driver who was in the sample, these breath test data were obtained. Otherwise, researchers recruited sampled drivers to voluntarily provide breath tests (98 percent did so).

Prior to the alcohol enforcement program, breath test data were obtained in checkpoints at 105 sites located in 15 randomly selected counties. The four demonstration areas represented 61 of the 105 sites surveyed. The checkpoints took place on both weekday and weekend nights, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. To provide before and after comparisons, the survey checkpoints were repeated following the program at the demonstration area sites matched for time of day and day of week unless inclement weather interfered. Forty- five sites provided matched data. Random digit telephone dialing techniques were used to interview 500 North Carolina residents before and 500 after the program (maximum margin of error 4 percent), and samples of 200 in each demonstration area (margin of error 7 percent).

During the three weeks of enhanced enforcement, 1,233 sobriety checkpoints (separate from the survey checkpoints) took place, with 3,858 drivers cited for impaired driving (DWI) at the checkpoints and by roving patrols. In addition, 53 fugitives were arrested, there were 636 drug-related charges, and 55 stolen vehicles were recovered. The program generated extensive publicity, including 99 separate television news reports.

Statewide, the preprogram checkpoint data indicated that 2.4 percent of drivers had BACs at or above the per se limit in North Carolina (0.08 percent). In the demonstration areas, the percentage of drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined from 1.98 percent to 0.90 percent (z= 3.21, p < 0.001).

The telephone survey data indicated that there was considerable preprogram awareness of alcohol-enforcement activities and that the program increased awareness substantially (Table 1). Both statewide and in demonstration areas, respondents were more likely after the three-week blitz to have read or heard about recent increases in enforcement. The percentage of people who said they knew about a special alcohol program that had recently gone into effect more than tripled statewide. Twenty percent of respondents in the statewide survey and about 15 percent in the demonstration areas could spontaneously recall the name of the program.

Table 1
Responses to Survey of North Carolinians on "Booze It and Lose It" Activities

Area Percent Responding Positively
Before Program After Program
Have heard about recent enforcement of drunk driving laws
Statewide 58 86
High Point 61 76
Elizabeth City 54 82
Haywood County 60 85
Fayetteville 46 80
Four areas combined (55) (81)
Think drunk driving laws are being very strictly enforced
Statewide 28 37
High Point 31 33
Elizabeth City 29 44
Haywood County 32 41
Fayetteville 28 33
Four areas combined (30) (38)
Think likelihood of being caught if driving drunk has increased in past month
Statewide 38 61
High Point 37 50
Elizabeth City 36 58
Haywood County 42 65
Fayetteville 32 49
Four areas combined (37) (56)
Know about sobriety checkpoints being conducted
Statewide 41 56
High Point 42 59
Elizabeth City 41 76
Haywood County 36 82
Fayetteville 39 52
Four areas combined (39) (67)
Have been through checkpoint in past month (as driver or passenger)
Statewide 13 17
High Point 7 16
Elizabeth City 12 23
Haywood County 7 27
Fayetteville 8 10
Four areas combined (8) (19)
Have seen something on TV in past month on alcohol enforcement
Statewide 45 80
High Point 36 60
Elizabeth City 33 58
Haywood County 48 73
Fayetteville 37 67
Four areas combined (39) (64)
Know of a special alcohol enforcement program that has gone into effect recently
Statewide 11 36
High Point 10 29
Elizabeth City 11 25
Haywood County 8 26
Fayetteville 11 24
Four areas combined (10) (26)
Know, without prompting the program's name is "Booze it and Lose It"
Statewide 0 20
High Point 0 15
Elizabeth City 0 16
Haywood County 0 14
Fayetteville 0 14
Four areas combined 0 (15)
* The four demonstration areas within North Carolina chosen for study were Elizabeth City, a small eastern community; High Point, representing the large cities of the central Peidmont region; Haywood County, in the western mountain region; and Fayetteville, a medium-size south central city.

Generally, there were no meaningful differences in enforcement awareness among the demonstration areas or between demonstration areas and the state as a whole. There was somewhat more awareness of the "Booze It and Lose It" program in the statewide sample. The exception was in experience with checkpoints, where more people in the demonstration areas knew about checkpoints, presumably because they had more exposure to them. Awareness of and experience with checkpoints was particularly high in Haywood County, a largely rural area with a few population centers where the checkpoints were concentrated.

Program plans for 1995 include "Booze It and Lose It" and "Click It or Ticket" enforcement blitzes, in July and November, respectively. Efforts will be made to integrate seat belt and alcohol enforcement. To some extent, this has already occurred. For example, 2,094 drivers were charged with DWI in the seat belt checkpoints and roving patrols, while 6,240 citations for nonuse of seat belts were issued in the "Booze It and Lose It" checkpoints and patrols. Combined emphasis on belt use and alcohol-impaired driving can be effective since these are correlated behaviors. To the extent that the relevant public becomes aware that not wearing a seat belt may be a tipoff to investigate for alcohol use, and that investigation of alcohol use may also include a citation for nonuse of seat belts, the goals of the program will be furthered.

The North Carolina initiative has applied approaches that have been used successfully elsewhere to change behavior regarding alcohol and seat belt use. The cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies and the various public and private organizations involved in this venture have resulted in a well-coordinated, large scale effort that has produced early successes. The goal during the remaining years of the program is to extend and consolidate the gains that have occurred thus far, and to document the effect on the bottom line of reduced injuries and costs to the citizens of North Carolina.

REFERENCES

Williams, A.F.; Reinfurt, D.W.; Wells, J.K. 1994. Increasing Seat Belt Use in North Carolina. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.