Central New York, Public Safety

Onondaga County Pumps the Brakes on Drunk Driving With STOP-DWI

The STOP-DWI program has helped reduce drunk driving fatalities in Onondaga County since 1981. (c) 2018 Keir Chapman

Click here to listen to how New York State’s STOP-DWI program has helped drunk driving fatality rates in Onondaga County.

Audio Transcript: STOP-DWI’s Impact on Onondaga County

Keir Chapman SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — In 1981, ex-Sen. William “Cadillac” Smith helped found STOP-DWI in New York state after a drunk driver killed his daughter in 1973. The program is one of a kind, as each county is allowed to adopt it’s own version.

STOP-DWI is funded by fines levied against convicted drunk drivers. However, Onondaga County Program Coordinator Barry Weiss said counties have to follow certain criteria to be eligible.

“Police, prosecution, probation, rehabilitation, and public information,” Weiss said. “You do those five, you’ll get the fine money back.”

Weiss said STOP-DWI was started to lower drunk driving fatality rates. A 2003 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety administration charted alcohol related deaths, and found a significant drop-off from 1982 to 2002 in New York state, along with the rest of the country.

Thirty percent of Onondaga County’s driving fatalities were alcohol related between 2012 and 2016, nearly 10 percent higher than the state’s average. Weiss reported the number was much higher before the inception of STOP-DWI.

Onondaga County's drunk driving fatality rates from 2008 to 2016

(c) 2018 County Health Rankings.

“In the ’70’s, early ’80’s, there was an average of about 25 to 30 driving fatalities based on alcohol in this county per year,” Weiss said.

The program uses two methods to teach convicted drunk drivers about the dangers of their actions. The Victim’s Impact Panel (VIP) allows victims of alcohol related driving accidents to share how the event impacted their lives, with the perpetrators themselves.

Project Awareness focuses on bringing awareness to people caught buying alcohol underage, or selling alcohol to minors, about future dangers they could face down the line. Both VIP and Project Awareness can be court ordered by county judges.

Weiss said, along with continuing to combat drunk driving, STOP-DWI will focus on drivers caught operating a vehicle under the influence of prescription drugs and opioids.