Month’s efforts target impaired drivers
Members of the Lee County Injury Prevention Coalition kicked off National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month on Wednesday.
Officials offered prevention tips and local statistics on injuries and deaths associated with driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, as well as distracted and drowsy driving. Also known as 3D Prevention Month, Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month is observed nationwide in December.
“This is an extremely important effort,” Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan said.
Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall echoed that sentiment.
“We have responsibilities when we get on the road,” she said. “Let’s think before we get in our cars.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, there were 2,558 accidents on Florida roadways in 2009, with 770 drivers having a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. Three out of 10 Americans are directly involved in an alcohol related traffic crash in their lifetime.
Nelayda Fonte, associate director of Trauma Surgery for Lee Memorial Hospital, reported that 80 percent of injuries are blunt force trauma and involve a motor vehicle or a motorcycle. Fonte added that there is a 5 percent increase in drug use among traffic fatalities on roadways.
“Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the Nov. 1 trauma alert at Lee Memorial’s Trauma Center with 40 (percent) to 60 percent of the cases involving alcohol or drugs,” Syndi Bultman, injury prevention manager and resource manager of LMHS’s Lee County Trauma Services District, said.
Fonte explained that motorists forget that some medications warn against operating heavy machinery and that motor vehicles fall under that category.
“We are seeing an increase in impaired driving associated with prescription drugs,” Interim Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy said.
He noted that the most recent driver charged in connection to a traffic fatality in the city involved a man who was lawfully prescribed medications, but was allegedly not taking the drugs as instructed when he fatally struck another.
Brian Gustavus Ross, 52, of 842 S.W. 47th St., was charged with DUI manslaughter, manslaughter, DUI and DUI with property damage in the death of Waste Pro worker Lawrence Davis, 53, of Fort Myers. Tests showed that Ross had enough drugs in his system for impairment, according to police.
Ross was prescribed methadone, a narcotic for pain relief, and alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug. He was on both medications when the crash occurred.
“That is becoming an ever-increasing problem,” Murphy said.
“It’s only through educating the public that we have any hope of eradicating this problem,” he added.
Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker also spoke Wednesday, as well as members from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol. The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida and Stay Alive Just Drive were present, each stressing the importance of safe driving.
FHP Capt. Tim Culhane advised the public to check their tires before hitting the road, to find a designated driver and to put down the phone when driving.
“It can wait,” LCSO Lt. Eric Smith said of texting while driving.
Officials offered the following safety tips:
* Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin.
* Designate a sober driver before drinking and give them the keys.
* Use a taxi, limo service or public transportation or call a sober friend or family member to get home safety.
* If you see an impaired driver on the road, call local law enforcement.
* Do not let friends drive drunk. Take their keys and help them make arrangements to get home safely.
* Get adequate rest, bring a friend or family member on long trips and take frequent breaks when driving on trips.
* If you need to take a phone call, pull over to a safe location until your phone call is completed.
Composed of more than 80 health and safety agencies and experts, the coalition is a multi-disciplinary cooperative of private and public partners. Since 1995, the group has been working to prevent injuries in Lee County.