A Deadly Combination

More alcohol-related accidents in Chautauqua County occur on Sunday than any other day of the week. The second most: Saturday. Third: Friday.

In 2011, most accidents with drivers under the influence of alcohol took place between midnight-6 a.m. and 6 p.m-midnight. Each six-hour block had 47 crashes apiece.

A comprehensive report by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research released in December details driving habits of Chautauqua County drivers. The report, sponsored by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, compares traffic safety data from 2009-11, and explores general crash statistics to the number of tickets issued by local police agencies.

Information on accidents involving impaired driving, though, is sobering. Of the 110 alcohol-related crashes reported in 2011, six resulted in fatalities.

“My first thought would be that is six fatalities too many,” said Sgt. Gary Segrue, Jamestown State Police barracks station commander. “All of these fatalities were avoidable.”

“There’s no reason to have these kinds of senseless deaths, ever,” Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace added.

The detailed report said more than 75 percent of alcohol-related fatal accidents in the county involved just one vehicle, while unsafe speed was cited more often than not. In fact, police here issue more tickets for speeding than any other traffic violation.

Local State Police issued 8,222 speeding tickets in 2011; the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office and local police issued 4,624 tickets during that time for unsafe speed, the crash report said.

The combination of speed and alcohol use is deadly, Segrue said.

“Unsafe speed is an overwhelming contributing factor in these alcohol-related fatalities,” he said. “Consumption of alcoholic beverages affects the ability to make decisions, especially defensive driving skills.

“When consuming alcohol, operators are not prepared to make a split-second decision when it matters. Couple this with the fact that automobiles and roadways are constructed for a smooth and comfortable ride and speed tends to get away from operators under the influence. Operators are comfortable driving at speeds higher than the posted limits.”

Gerace, meanwhile, has seen thousands of car crashes in his lifetime. The sheriff speaks a dozen times a year in area schools to speak against drunken driving, and has promoted a victim’s impact panel that requires all county residents charged with an impaired-driving crime to attend.

The panel, Gerace said, is held monthly and is hosted by victims of impaired drivers, either by drugs or alcohol. The emotionally charged meetings have been held locally for 15 years.

“There is no reason, whatsoever, that someone should have a drink then get behind the wheel. None,” Gerace said.

WEEKEND SPIKE

There’s no surprise more alcohol-related accidents occur on the weekend or during the holidays, Segrue said. There’s more traffic on the road and ample opportunity to drink, he said.

As a result, local police beef up patrols during high-traffic times – more often than not on the weekends.

“We attempt to target these periods with enforcement details,” Segrue said. “These details may consist of extra driving while intoxicated patrols and sobriety road checks.”

Segrue said State Police also employ an underage drinking initiative, where troopers would do spot checks for underage drinking at a slew of locations. Police also will go into schools and show up at public events for an educational blitz on the dangers of drunken driving.

The Jamestown Police Department also increases patrols during high-traffic periods. City police saw a spike in driving while intoxicated arrests in December.

“These drivers endanger everybody, not just themselves,” said Capt. Robert Samuelson of the Jamestown Police Department at the time. “Our officers are always on alert no matter what time of the day it is and we are always looking for impaired driving.”

According to the report, there were 23 crashes in 2011 that involved alcohol on a Sunday; Twenty-two occurred on Saturdays and 18 on Fridays.

The least cited day for an alcohol-related crash: Wednesday with seven, the only day of the week in 2011 to have single-digit accidents. The largest: Sunday between midnight and 6 a.m. with 19 reported accidents.

“We as a law enforcement agency can only do so much,” Segrue said. “It ultimately has to be an individual that does the right thing.”

FACT BOX