The DWI Program Prevails During a Pandemic By Valeria QuezadaIn 1993, the New Mexico Legislature enacted laws that created the Local DWI Grant Program Act in an effort to reduce the incidence of DWI, alcoholism, and alcohol abuse. The Eddy County DWI Program opened in 1994, where the Eddy County serves as the fiscal agent. The program is not against the use of alcohol by those of legal age, but they are against the behavior of impaired driving. Impaired driving includes impairment by alcohol, illegal drugs, over the counter medications, or prescriptions medication. Cindy Sharif, DWI Program Director says, “If you feel different you drive different. Any substance that impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle can result in a DWI arrest and possible conviction. ”Due to COVID-19, many places of operation have changed their schedule or adjusted to the new normal. The Eddy County DWI Program is very important in our area, it helps keep the community safe and prevent dangerous situations on the road. Cindy describes the adjustments they have made during this time, “Our office has remained open and we have kept our regular operating schedule,” she said. “We began teaching the twelve hour Traffic Safety Division Carlsbad DWI School and our monthly Victim Impact Panel, Driving While Impaired Supplemental Education (DWISE) Programs via webinar. This would not have been possible without the support of Eddy County providing the substantial amount of data required to support these efforts. The ability to provide these services to DWI Offenders allowed them to comply with their court order, thus avoiding a burden on the court system and detention center, while doing so safely and in accordance with public safety guidelines. We purchased and distributed to the public free hand sanitizer with a DWI Prevention message.” One would assume that the DWI numbers would have gotten lower with the stay-at-home order and the shut-down of bars, but the numbers remain high. Cindy says, “DWI enforcement efforts remain high with most DWI Offenders reporting they drove less than one mile anywhere in Eddy County prior to being stopped for DWI and arrested. Historically, most DWI offenders in Eddy County report that the alcohol they consumed before DWI arrest was obtained at a social gathering or party and not in a bar or restaurant. We have provided fewer Clinical Screening and Assessment Evaluations. In comparison,109 DWI Offenders were assessed from March 1-
September 10, 2019 as compared to 72 for this same period in 2020. This decrease does not necessarily correlate with the shut down and may be a reflection of many factors, such as a decrease in population, a downturn in economic conditions, less disposable income or a myriad of other contributing factors.” Many people also have not obeyed the stay-at-home order or no social gathering regulations put in place due to COVID. This not only puts people at risk for the virus, but also puts the lives of people in danger due to impaired driving. This puts the driver at risk, those in the vehicle, and other people that are on the road. Some operations have had to be modified during this period. The DWI Program has activated contingency plan that went into effect March 19. They have begun to provide Assessment and Treatment via telephones well as assessment by telephone or in the office. They have cancelled Roadway Cleanup Community Service activities, Smart Recovery live sessions, and Auricular Detoxification services. "We have eased up on some of the restrictions while still adhering to social distancing guidelines and implementing some other controls. Roadway Cleanup Community Service supervision has resumed and is available every Saturday and Sunday alternating between Carlsbad and Artesia. In addition to the normal safeguards of trash bags, traffic safety vests and gloves, we are providing face masks and trash grabbers for participants. Detail supervisors have also extended their hours to better serve the courts and help offenders complete their community service requirements,” Cindy tells of more adjustments made to the program. In order to increase contact and awareness, they have also made meetings via zoom webinar, created digital billboard ads, used the radio, created stickers, increased presence of Facebook, and the Eddy County website. Cindy includes, “Two times per month our Artesia Prevention/Educator is a guest on Artesia Radio where she addresses listeners regarding the dangers of DWI, the mission of our program, and she frequently invites guests to join her. Program presentations were provided via zoom webinar for the Rotary Club and a short description of our mission and the services we provide at the quarterly STEPS (Transmission, Exploration, Production, and Safety Network) meeting. STEPS is primarily, but not limited to, the oil and gas industry. Keep a Clear Mind Evidence based prevention booklets were provided to the Carlsbad Boys and Girls Club and for distribution to home schooled students in Artesia. This curriculum is designed for children in
grades four through six or ages 9-11 and their parents or guardian. It is designed to help children develop specific skills to refuse and avoid the use of “gateway” drugs. ”Not only should grown-ups adhere to safety guidelines, but kids and teens as well. It is important to keep the entire community safe and prevent accidents. Due to the shut-down it’s no surprise the numbers are still high, but it is important to remember to drink responsibly, not drink and drive, etc. Especially now, in a global pandemic there are two grave dangers-the virus and DWI’s! Lives can be saved and injuries prevented if you make smart choices and never drive while you are impaired! Cindy says, “DWI crashes are 100% preventable! In New Mexico, a DWI stays on your driving record for 55 years. DWI is not only dangerous it is a crime !Law enforcement begins with the presence of officers and their presence enhances the perception that if you drive impaired you will be arrested.” To prevent accidents, designate a driver who has not been drinking, call for a ride home. Don’t be the person who puts yourself and others at risk! The law enforcement officers are trained to detect impaired driving and they will arrest you. Law enforcement officers also work hard to reduce the number of DWI’s and promote safety in our community. Cindy leaves our community with this advice, “Impairment starts with the first drink. Driving? Not even one drink! The legal limit for driving is .00.Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving! One thing we all have in common is we share these roads! We encourage the public to spot and report DWI. If you see something, say something! Pull over, call 911, and provide a description of the vehicle, location, direction of travel, and a license plate number if you have it. We are all stakeholders in preventing DWI, it affects all of us.” The Eddy County DWI Program is community resource serving all of Eddy County, and this pandemic has not shut-down their main goal! It has made this crucial resource even stronger.