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HERO campaign raises awareness for safer roads during holidays

| Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 6:14 p.m.

Adams Police Chief Will Westerman says his officers are busier patrolling roads at this time of year than at any other time.

“We watch for the drunks. You always get a few more of them at the holidays, especially on State Route 228. We get people coming back from Cranberry, people who have come north from Pittsburgh,” Westerman said.

It's not just a problem on New Year's Eve, he said.

“That seemed to tame down a little bit in recent years. But Christmas parties just go on for weeks,” he said.

Last week, state police, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and PennDOT started the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers, a campaign that strives to promote safe and sober driving.

The campaign's goal is to register 1 million designated drivers and make having a designated driver be as automatic as wearing a seat belt.

“Drunk and drugged driving remains a major concern in Pennsylvania, and unfortunately this is completely preventable,” PennDOT Executive Deputy Secretary Brad Mallory said in a statement.

Pennsylvania is the fifth state to officially adopt the campaign, which started in New Jersey and is named after a Naval Academy graduate who was killed by a drunk driver. “The campaign draws attention to the benefits of always having a designated driver,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a spokesman for the state police in Harrisburg.

From Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, state police increase enforcement with DUI checkpoints and roving patrols, Reed said.

“The holidays are always a busy time for us. It's a period that really lasts for a number of weeks,”

Traffic accidents related to alcohol have declined in recent years, according to PennDOT.

Last year, 377 of the 1,310 traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania were alcohol-related. That's down from 512 such deaths in 2008, when there were 1,468 highway deaths.

“That number is on pace to decrease in 2013. Our goal is to decrease this to zero,” said Amanda Schoch, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

Butler County's DUI Task Force increases its use of roving patrols during December, said Charles Barger, chief detective for the Butler County District Attorney's office.

While efforts such as the HERO campaign raise awareness about driving under the influence, programs such as TIPS, a training program for employees in the hospitality industry, helped reduce driving while impaired.

At the Marriott North in Cranberry, which will host large New Year's Eve parties, the entire staff is certified in TIPS.

“We encourage people to stay in the hotel on New Year's Eve. If someone has had too much to drink, it's best to find another way home for them,” said Rebecca Burns, manager of the River City Grille restaurant, which is in the hotel.

Holiday traffic problems are not all related to drinking, said Lt. Jeff Schueler, Cranberry's director of public safety.

“Cranberry is always congested. It's worse with the holidays and with shopping. It seems like traffic on Route 19 and on Route 288 is heavy almost all day. There are so many more people out, and this will last until New Year's,” he said.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans — 94.5 million people — are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home this year, according to AAA.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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