SHERIDAN — In 2017, 40 people died as a result of alcohol-involved traffic crashes in Wyoming. In addition, 245 crashes injured 343 people. While those numbers were down from 2016, local entities are joining in a statewide effort during peak season to reduce impaired-driving incidents.
“Primarily, it’s another opportunity to remind and educate the public that DWI’s are a factor in our lives and have the potential to make any day the worst day in someone’s life,” Sheridan Police Department Lt. Tom Ringley said. “Point two: it’s part of the national campaign in which we receive traffic safety grants.”
Sheridan County reported more impaired-driving incidents than many other counties in the state. Sheridan is one of four counties recording more than 40 percent of all arrests as DUIs. DUI arrests as a state, however, have decreased since 2012. Alcohol-involved arrests decreased from 13,213 in 2012 to 9,054 in 2016.
While alcohol-related arrests decreased significantly, methamphetamine and other drug-involved arrests all increased.
“One of the biggest threats to people in Sheridan is the risk of harming themselves or property from someone driving under the influence,” Ringley said.
The Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving said 56 percent of all alcohol-involved crashes happen Fridays through Sundays and 46 percent of those crashes occurred between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Because of this, SPD utilizes grants given by the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police for DUI-specific enforcement.
“(The grants) pay overtime at no cost to the city to work traffic enforcement,” Ringley said.
Most months, SPD receives $905 from WASCOP. The department receives additional funding in June for DUI enforcement during busy summer months and for the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. The grants help put extra help on the streets at no extra cost to taxpayers. SPD also does not allow any time off for the entire department during the rodeo.
In addition to on-the-street patrolling, SPD reviews a much larger number of alcohol permit requests during the summer. Those permits are submitted by liquor license holders or other citizens wishing to host an event that may serve alcohol.
Ringley said SPD staff reviews each permit to see if road closures will have an effect on emergency vehicles, then review it for alcohol service. Questions include: Will servers be properly trained through the SPD program? How will minors be identified if they are allowed at the event? How will the entity provide rides home for those unable to drive?
SPD also reviews permits for possible crowd control needs, which is why permits are limited for rodeo week. Last weekend, Sheridan’s hotel rooms were completely full, which translated to heavier traffic and likely more alcohol consumption. SPD prepares for that by using those grant funds to have additional patrol or bike officers on shift during the peak times of the weekend.
As the summer DUI campaign continues throughout the state, Wyoming Highway Patrol implores drivers to remain vigilant when drinking.
“When someone makes a deliberate choice to drink and drive and ends up in a crash… that’s not an accident,” Wyoming Highway Patrol Col. Kebin Haller said. “There is no ‘safe’ amount of alcohol you can drink before driving and yet, every day in Wyoming, people find themselves at that fork in the road between putting the key in the ignition or making a choice that leads you — and others — to a safe destination.”