If you could make one choice that cost you nothing, no money, freedom, or liberties, that has the potential to save your life or the lives of others, would you do it? Sounds like a simple question and most people I know would quickly answer yes, of course! However, in reality, that is often not the case.
- In 2021, the last year for current reporting, 401 South Carolina residents lost their lives because individuals chose to drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
- According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-related driving fatalities in South Carolina increased 26% from 2020 to 2021.
- This places South Carolina as the eighth-highest state for alcohol-impaired driving deaths.
Now, you probably think this message is going to focus on telling you not to drive under the influence because it is against the law, and it can have significant consequences that can follow you for a lifetime. You would be wrong. Everyone already knows those things, yet individuals continue to make the poor choice to get behind the wheel and take actions that are dangerous for them personally and the entire community. Included in those 401 deaths in 2021 are innocent people whose only mistake was being in the wrong place when a DUI driver decided they were okay to drive.
This message is about providing you with information regarding what the Clemson University Police Department (CUPD) is doing to help keep you safe on campus and being transparent so you can make informed decisions. You see, my purpose is to build trust and collaborate with you to sustain a safe and healthy community. That means sharing information that hopefully leads to you making smart decisions to enhance your safety, reduce your risk and prevent your harm.
Because of the spike in DUIs since 2019, South Carolina officials and lawmakers have increased their focus on DUI. A new law passed in 2023 expands the Ignition Interlock requirement to all drivers convicted of DUI. Additionally, due to the increase in highway fatalities, DUI enforcement has increased among law enforcement agencies across the State, including CUPD.
You might think the size of our campus reduces the potential for DUI, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Between June 1 and October 5, 2023, CUPD officers have identified and arrested 38 individuals for driving impaired. What is even more disturbing is the number who provide breath samples that far exceed the legal limit. We are talking about blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels as high as .29.
Each one of these arrests represents an opportunity for severe injury or death. These drivers clearly were not thinking about the possible consequences when they slid in behind the wheel and decided to drive. I wonder how many others had the opportunity to stop the behavior and were afraid to act possibly preventing a friend or community member from losing their life or sustaining a life-altering injury.
So, what should you know about our efforts?
First, we are serious about DUI enforcement and our officers are assertive in their enforcement efforts. Due to the level of DUI offenders that we encounter on the roadways that traverse campus, our officers engage in high visibility saturation patrols and joint sobriety checkpoints with our surrounding partners. We are active participants in the 13th Circuit Law Enforcement Network that coordinates efforts for a state-wide Target Zero campaign to eliminate highway fatalities. This means that we participate in organized traffic enforcement efforts throughout the year that specifically target DUI and other offenses which can reduce fatalities.
We also constantly work with groups across campus to provide education and awareness relating to the dangers and consequences of DUI. These sessions provide an environment to speak candidly with participants about DUI facts, statistics, and the real-world consequences for drivers charged with DUI, as well as the innocent victims impacted by this selfish behavior.
Finally, we partner with MADD South Carolina to host Victim Impact Panels (VIPs) that highlight prevention and education activities to engage with those convicted of DUI and other alcohol and drug-related offenses. Hearing the personal stories of those whose lives were changed forever in an instant because of a poor choice will truly break your heart.
What is the takeaway?
- Be smart and do not ruin your life or someone else’s because of a poor decision to get behind the wheel after you have been drinking or using drugs.
- As friends or acquaintances, be courageous and stand up when you see someone about to make a mistake that could cost them or an innocent individual their lives, result in incarceration and a life full of guilt.
- If you are a passenger, do not get in the car. Do not jeopardize your own safety due to the poor decisions of others.
I hope that you will join me in encouraging others to make the right choice. I do not want you or any member of our community to be harmed by a drunk or drugged driver. Let us commit to making South Carolina a safer place by reducing the damage caused by DUIs.
Gregory G. Mullen
Associate VP for Public Safety | Chief of Police