South Carolina’s capital city will be the host site of a new experimental program that tries to crack down on drunken driving by offering an incentive for the public to report it.
AAA Carolinas announced Friday that it is partnering with the City of Columbia and the Columbia Police Department to offer a $100 reward for a witness who reports a drunk driver who is successfully prosecuted.
“South Carolina is one of the deadliest states in the country for drunk driving. We hope by offering an incentive to report drunk drivers, we can save lives,” AAA Carolinas board member Jim Cantey said shortly after the announcement. He says the program will be unique to Columbia, but AAA hopes it can eventually be expanded nationwide.
To drive home the dangers of driving under the influence, the driving organization held its press conference in the Historic Elmwood Cemetery. They were joined by Columbia’s interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago and a half-dozen police officers. Santiago said the program is meant to put more eyes on the roads at night.
“This program is, at the core, a deterrent,” Santiago said. “And we want to bring to the surface that this is an issue in South Carolina. We want to make sure it doesn’t become an issue in Columbia.
South Carolina ranks third highest in the nation for drunk driving deaths per vehicle miles traveled. According to AAA’s data, Richland and Lexington counties recorded 13% of the state’s drunk driving deaths in 2011. Richland County is currently leading the state for overall traffic fatalities in 2013, according to the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
In 2011, 38% of South Carolina’s 828 traffic deaths involved drunken drivers, Cantey said. And, of those, 66% had a blood alcohol content above 0.15 percent (the legal limit in South Carolina is 0.08).
According to Santiago, there have not been any traffic fatalities tied to DUI in Columbia so far this year. But he adds there were seven deaths in 2012.
“We have a lot of tourism here. We have a lot of people coming here to do business. And we want those people to feel safe,” he said. “We just want people to be responsible. When you look at the numbers and the amount of incidents in South Carolina in general, they’re alarming.”
A person would not receive the $100 unless the arrested driver is convicted of DUI. A successful prosecution can take between a month and a year in Columbia courts, depending on the situation. Many times the charges are also dropped or downgraded, so there’s no guarantee that an arrest would eventually lead to a reward for the witness.
But Cantey says actual convictions aren’t the group’s primary goal. “We aren’t as interested in catching drunk drivers as we are in creating an atmosphere that someone who has been drinking – no matter how impaired, will be afraid to drive because everyone is watching,” he said.