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Drunk driving cases down 25 percent as Labor Day enforcement ramps up

Stay-at-home orders and closed bars have contributed to a reduction in drunk and impaired driving arrests, according to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As the annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign enters its final stretch this Labor Day weekend, efforts to combat drunk driving have gotten help from an unlikely source – the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our prosecutions are down; people were staying at home,’’ Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said.

Drunk and impaired driving prosecutions in Kent County through August are down 25 percent from a year ago.

Becker says he believes stay-at-home orders and closed bars early in the pandemic are behind the overall decline.

“And alcohol sales are up, so if they’re drinking, they’re drinking at home and not driving, which is a good thing in the long run,’’ Becker said.

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The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office authorized charges in 530 cases through Aug. 31 this year, compared with 706 cases for the same period in 2019.

Becker says he is hopeful the downward trend continues for Labor Day weekend.

“People have a three-day weekend, so they have more time to go out, but there is enforcement and greater awareness,’’ Becker said.

Michigan’s ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ campaign, which got underway in mid-August, focuses on increased enforcement and additional messaging about the dangers of driving impaired. It ends Sept. 7.

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“This should be a time for friends and family to enjoy the final days of summer,’’ said Michael L. Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. “Impaired driving puts everyone at risk and is always unacceptable.’’

There are 109 law enforcement agencies participating in the statewide campaign, including several from West Michigan.

In 2019, the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over effort resulted in more than 9,100 traffic stops and 209 drunk driving arrests statewide.

“We’ll have extra officers out on patrol, looking specifically to target drunk driving to try to reduce the number of traffic crashes and fatalities,’’ said Lt. Eric Wiler of the Wyoming Department of Public Safety, a participating agency.

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The Kent County Sheriff’s Department is also involved.

“We are paying attention, we are doing everything we can – especially on holiday weekends,’’ Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said. “Labor Day weekend means more people on the roads and more people perhaps partaking in alcohol or drugs.’’

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