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SHERIDAN — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is launching the second phase of a statewide campaign to change attitudes about drunk driving. The campaign, which started with billboards, has now expanded to 30-second radio and TV ads as well as half-page print ads in publications around the state, and focuses on the “Wyoming Eight,” a group of University of Wyoming cross country runners who were killed by a drunk driver in 2001.
“We were hoping our deaths might change things,” says a voice intended to represent one of the deceased athletes.
“But since then, over 600 other people in Wyoming have been killed by drunk drivers,” another voice chimes in.
Mike Reed heads up the governor’s Council on Impaired Driving. He says Wyoming still struggles with the outdated cultural attitude that drunk driving isn’t a big deal.
“People used to describe distances between towns as being either a six-pack or a 12-pack trip,” Reed said.
“Or, if someone was known to drink a lot and drive home, people would say, ‘his car knows its way home,'” he added.
Reed pointed out progress has been made, but there’s still more work to do when it comes to changing minds and behavior.
“It’s a running joke, and its a running battle,” said Thom Gabrukiewicz, community prevention specialist.
Gabrukiewicz shared the statistic from the state’s Alcohol and Crime in Wyoming Report for 2012 that 69 percent of all arrests in the state were alcohol related. In Sheridan, that number jumps to 79 percent.
The community prevention coalition has identified a trend in Sheridan County that teens and adults alike self report binge drinking at levels above the national average.
The average Blood Alcohol Content of people arrested for Driving Under the Influence after being in a traffic crash in the state was 0.16, which equates to eight or nine drinks in one hour for a 200-pound man. It takes four drinks in one hour for the same person to reach the legal limit of 0.08. However, a driver that’s not an experienced drinker can still be impaired even if they haven’t hit the legally established limit.
“If you think you’re impaired, you are. Don’t get behind the wheel,” Gabrukiewicz said.
Reed compares common attitudes about drinking and driving to older perceptions of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence was once viewed as a personal or family issue. Now, no one will allow it to occur in our communities,” he said. “We need to get to that point with drunk driving. I think eventually, we’ll be prepared, our society will be prepared, to say, yeah, we shouldn’t do that.”
Gabrukiewicz pointed out that Sheridan has the Tipsy Taxi program in place to give bar patrons a free ride home if they find themselves impaired and have no designated driver.
“If you have the means to not drive drunk, there’s no excuse,” he said, adding drunken driving accidents are a costly endeavor for the individual and society as a whole.
Reed wants to see more people take an active voice in preventing impaired driving.
“Once they’ve made the decision to get behind the wheel, it involves all of us,” Reed said. “They’re endangering everyone.”
Reed said the second phase of the governor’s media campaign was inspired by parents of the Wyoming Eight.
The governor’s council that’s sponsoring the ads also works with local law enforcement officers statewide to enforce DUI laws.