WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Drive sober. That message is on repeat from TxDOT ahead of the new year.
This year that message comes with gut-wrenching stories of those affected.
“I was 15-years-old at the time and my mother was teaching me how to drive when someone under the influence hit us head-on. My mother was killed instantly,” Jessica Turner said.
Heartbreaking and preventable.
“there’s nothing wrong with going out and having a good time, but do not choose to get behind the wheel. If you aren’t going to do it for yourself do it for your loved ones,” Pam Todaro said.
TxDOT’s “Drive sober. No regrets.” campaign is ramping up as the year ends.
Sharing personal accounts from real offenders and survivors TxDOT Public Information Officer, Adele Lewis, believes this initiative highlights the human toll a DUI crash can have on the lives of victims and survivors.
“Every month, we go through all of the fatals in our district and comb through them and look at them and I hate it,” Lewis said. “I hate seeing kids, young people, my children’s age, dying from these things and you can’t help but try and bring some of that feeling home. So it is emotional, just outrageously emotional if it happens to you.”
And the numbers are staggering.
In 2020, 25% of total traffic crash fatalities in Texas were DUI and alcohol-related.
Numbers here at home were even higher.
“But in this district, the nine counties, that watch the news here at Channel 3, we have 38% of the fatal wrecks that are caused by a drunk or drugged driver,” Lewis said.
According to Lewis, a spike in COVID-19 cases also came with a spike in deadly crashes.
“We thought oh, no one is even going to work anymore, we’re going to have a lot fewer wrecks and a lot fewer fatals. That didn’t happen,” Lewis said. “We went way over 2019 and in 2021 when everyone is getting back to work, is even worse.”
So far this year, The Wichita Falls Police Department has conducted 81 DWI arrests and is reminding drivers to stay alert on what may feel like the ultimate party night.
“The accidents that we work, of course, we’ll be looking at those very closely, to see if anyone is impaired and we do usually, but especially that night,” Sgt Charlie Eipper said. “We may have some folks from our specialized units that are out keeping watch on different areas.”
People who suspect drunk drivers should report the driver immediately and stay back.
“We look at it as a way of taking care of each other in the city, keeping people off the street that are unsafe, keeping your friends off the street if they’re going to be unsafe,” Eipper said.
“If you’re going to have a good time, continue that good time by being safe. Give your keys to someone else or sleep in your car. Don’t drink and get behind the wheel,” Pam Todaro said.
TxDOT figures are also startling with the number of people not wearing seatbelts, impaired or not.
Lewis says buckling up is the one thing you can do whether you are two years old or 100 that will save your life.