DWI checkpoints are established for a safe prom and graduation season

 Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan today announced plans to set up Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) checkpoints, beginning this weekend, to ensure the safety of high school students during their prom and graduation celebrations.

Members of various municipal police departments in the county, and investigators from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Fatal Crash Investigations Unit, will be randomly stationed at locations throughout the county to check for impaired drivers.

The program, now in its 24th year, seeks to educate teenagers about the dangers of impaired driving and encourages them to drive soberly.

‘’The purpose of the checkpoints is to remove intoxicated drivers from the road; educate people to the dangers of drinking and driving; deter drivers from getting behind the wheel of their vehicles after having consumed alcohol or drugs, and the overall goal is to ensure that proms and graduation celebrants arrive safely,’’ said Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Sewitch, who supervises the checkpoints.

 He called the program a success, noting that since its inception, police have never found an impaired teenage driver at any of the prom and graduation checkpoints.

Additionally, Sewitch said, there have been no motor vehicle fatalities or injuries among teens in Middlesex County during the prom and graduation season.

Sewitch said education has been the key to deterring students from driving impaired.

When motorists are stopped at the checkpoints, they are handed pamphlets outlining the consequences of impaired driving and are told that first-time offenders could lose their driving privileges for at least seven months and face a variety of fines, insurance surcharges and legal fees that could total as much as $15,000.

In addition, the Middlesex Out-Reach and Education (MORE) program, established by Prosecutor Kaplan, sends trained investigators to the schools to talk to students about the hazards of impaired driving.

Prosecutor Kaplan also sends letters to students and their parents encouraging them to drive soberly and safely.

While there have been no fatal crashes involving teenagers during the prom and graduation season, there were 42 fatal crashes in the county last year. Thirteen of those crashes involved alcohol or drugs and eight of the crashes involved drivers between the ages of 17 and 21.

Nationwide, 28 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 20 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking.

Prosecutor Kaplan said the statistics are reason enough to maintain the sobriety checkpoints during the prom and graduation season.

“When our children drink and drive, they are at risk to kill or seriously injure themselves and others,’’ Prosecutor Kaplan said.  ‘’Hopefully, this is all the motivation that we need to ensure that we, as parents, act responsibly when addressing the issue of alcohol use during prom and graduation season,’’ he said.

“I applaud the work of the Prosecutor and his staff and the proactive, multi-pronged approach they are taking to preventing impaired driving and the disastrous results that may follow,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Mildred S. Scott, chair of the county’s Law and Public Safety Committee. “The safety of our drivers – the safety of our children – remains paramount and we must take any and all avenues we can to prevent tragedy.”

This year’s program has been financed by a $29,975 grant from the state Office of Highway Traffic Safety.