Thursday, December 22, 2016

'Tis the Season for Awareness and Prevention

As the holiday week arrives and party season is in full swing, public safety officials nationwide warn us about the dangers of drunken driving.

As a court reporter, I’m reminded of those dangers on a daily basis with DUI cases comprising nearly a quarter of all the cases that come through the courthouse annually. The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting more than 1,400 DUI cases and the Sheriff’s Office Warrants Division has more than 900 DUI warrants on its books.

Tragically, too many DUI cases end with someone being killed or maimed.

So during this season of awareness and prevention I make a special mention here of a unique collaboration between members of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pennsylvania. Sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors and MADD officials volunteer their time to promote a designated driver program during Philadelphia Eagles home games.

Montco Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny/Submitted Photo

“We’ve participated in several. I think it’s very valuable. They help educate fans about the dangers of drunk driving and the importance of designated drivers at home games,’ Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny told me recently.

“The volunteers man the table. These dedicated men and women offer their personal time to volunteer to attend Eagles football games and work at the MADD booth and encourage fans to plan ahead and designate a non-drinking driver,” explained Linda Sposato, a victim services specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pennsylvania, adding MADD National and the NFL have teamed for five years at identical events at stadiums nationwide.

The volunteers, four at each game, man a MADD booth at eight home games and two preseason games at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We get the fans as they come into the stadium and explain to them the importance of them having a non-drinking designated driver for the group that they’re with,” Sposato said.
Linda Sposato, victim services specialist for MADD/Photo by Carl Hessler. Jr.

Under the program, the designated drivers sign a pledge and receive a coupon for a free soft drink. The designated drivers also are entered into special drawings to win prizes at each game.

“The people who sign up are very passionate about being a designated driver and making sure that their friends and family get home safe. And many times you find they somehow know someone who was involved in a DUI crash,” said Sposato. “We’d like to have more people sign up. We’re still giving the same message that we started over 30 years ago - make a plan before you go out.”

Assistant District Attorney Douglas Lavenberg, who once was a member of a special DUI prosecution unit in the county, has also volunteered at the games and said encouraging fans to make “smart choices” is important.
Montco Prosecutor Douglas Lavenberg/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“People can go out, they can have fun and they can drink responsibly but we don’t want anyone to get behind the wheel intoxicated,” Lavenberg said. “It’s a reminder to be responsible. The games are a great forum to get that message out. We get a lot of people to sign up.”

It’s a great opportunity for volunteers to get involved.

“Many times the volunteers are victims and they want to make a difference because of what happened to them,” said Sposato. “They feel they want to do something to stop it from happening to someone else.”

According to Sposato, during the five seasons that MADD and the NFL have worked together, more than 1.1 million people signed up to be non-drinking designated drivers at NFL games nationwide.

Lavenberg said he plans to stay involved in the effort.
“I believe strongly in the message that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is sending. I believe there is a world possible where there is no more drunk driving,” Lavenberg said.

Sposato said MADD is honored to have a local partnership with county officials “dedicated to keeping our roads safe for everyone.”

“To actually have the DA’s office and the sheriff’s department volunteer their own personal time to come out and support our cause just made me feel so good that they appreciate MADD’s work and want to help us,” Sposato said. “MADD is extremely grateful to the Sheriff’s Office along with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for going above and beyond in their part in saving lives.”

Sposato, the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office should be recognized for everything they do to make our roads safer year round. I applaud your efforts and thank you.

Here’s wishing all readers a very Merry Christmas and safe holiday season.

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