This story is part of a series on DUI offenders in York County. For additional coverage and an interactive presentation with stories, photos and videos, click here.

York City Police Officer Ritchie Blymire wanted to devise a plan to combat drunken driving in the city but knew that to execute it he needed help.

"DUI is a social problem; it's a problem the whole community could take an interest in addressing," he said. "The more people you have interested in addressing a situation like DUI, the better chance you have of being successful at it."

Through his DUI/Impaired Driving Initiative, Blymire plans to pursue funding so the city's officers can be trained in field sobriety testing and then be paid overtime to stop drunken drivers.

He's also been talking with local legislators about new drunken driving laws. And he wants to launch an educational program where college students would present anti-drinking messages to high school students, who would then present to middle school students.

Officials are fighting drunken driving with enforcement, legislation, education and rehabilitation. Despite those efforts - including the 2003 overhaul of the state's drunken driving law - it's as much a problem as ever.

In 2006, for example, there were 57 fatal crashes in York County. About half were alcohol- or drug-related, virtually unchanged from the previous two years, according to a York Daily Record/Sunday News analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Similarly, more than half of the state's fatal crashes were alcohol- or drug-related in 2006 and in the two previous years, according to the analysis.

"The sad part about DUI is that 100 percent of DUI crashes are avoidable," said Wayne Harper, director of the York County-based Center for Traffic Safety. "If people would not get behind the wheel, just get somebody else to drive, this problem would be over tomorrow."

Nothing - not a suspended license, not jail time and not even technology - can stop someone who is intent on driving even if they are intoxicated. New efforts are being made but with no guarantees they will solve the problem.

Drunken driving is rooted in addiction and society's apathy toward it, particularly alcohol addiction, said Nancy Oppedal, of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"We're dealing with human nature and imperfect people," she said, "and we all are."

Enforcement

Pennsylvania State Police said they arrested 15,583 people on suspicion of drunken driving last year, 3 percent more than the previous year, and the highest annual total in the agency's history.

Does that mean there were more drunken drivers on the roads, or that troopers are getting better at catching them? Trooper Karl Schmidhamer, a state police spokesman, said it's the latter.

The police are using more roving patrols and sobriety checkpoints, he said.

State police have diversified their attack on people who drive while impaired, training some troopers - and more recently, municipal officers - as drug recognition experts. They learn to detect the presence of other drugs when alcohol has been ruled out.

Local bars are also investigated by the state police's Liquor Control Enforcement division, which looks for those who serve "visibly impaired" patrons, said Officer John Mathias.

If a driver says the last place he was before getting stopped was a bar, troopers enter information into an internal Web page, and undercover liquor control officers will investigate.

Field sobriety testing, at one time a specialized course, is now integrated into the curriculum at the state police academy, Schmidhamer said.

Smaller municipal departments get funding for drunken driving roving patrols and sobriety checkpoints from the Center for Traffic Safety, Harper said. The center, which coordinates drunken driving enforcement in York, Lancaster and Adams counties, receives money from the federal government, by way of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

A center-sponsored roving patrol in early May had 11 officers from five departments participate. The officers stopped 55 vehicles, arrested five people for drunken driving, 11 for speeding and gave out 11 other traffic violations, Harper said.

In order to step up those patrols, more money is needed. When the center's fiscal year begins in October, Harper said, he wants to receive twice the money he has asked for in years past. This would allow him to double the sobriety checkpoints for the next year, bringing the total to 12.

Frequent and highly visible sobriety checkpoints and patrols help to deter drunken driving the best, said Misty Moyse, a spokeswoman for the national branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Those types of enforcement tactics generally reduce alcohol-related fatalities by 24 percent, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Legislation

State legislators are pushing for ignition interlock devices for more people convicted of DUI, to allow the state to impound their cars and to add a new felony charge for repeat offenders who kill.

Bills proposing those things are pending in Harrisburg.

State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, favors mandatory jail time for drunken drivers. Repeat offenders who are "driving a couple-ton missile down the road" show there is a need for tougher laws, he said.

Gillespie has introduced legislation, House Bill 2293, that would add a felony charge for repeat offenders who are charged with drunken driving after killing someone while intoxicated.

"I don't think we are running rampant with them, but we read about them frequently," he said. "They just haven't learned their lesson, they continue to drive, and they continue to drive while intoxicated."

Putting those who have alcohol problems in prison for a few years doesn't seem to fix the problem, said state Rep. Beverly Mackereth, R-Spring Grove.

About half of those arrested for DUI in York County last year for drunken driving are "severe problem drinkers," with an average blood-alcohol content of 0.18, according to a county database that tracks demographics of offenders.

"We are throwing everybody in jail, and I don't know if that is working," Mackereth said.

Interlock devices are meant to stop drunken people from starting cars, because the ignition will not work until someone blows into a breathalyzer to prove they are not drunk.

They are not foolproof. In 2006, a Luzerne County repeat drunken driver was charged after police found he got around the device by using canned air to start his truck.

For those who don't have an addiction to alcohol, Mackereth said, the devices could help drivers learn when they've had too much to drink.

"I don't think they think before they drink and drive," she said. "They probably think to themselves, 'I am not really drunk.'"

Some lawmakers say the state should take drunken drivers' vehicles. Funds from the sale of the impounded vehicles would go to support local police and district attorney offices.

Senate Bill 1413 would allow local officials to seize the vehicles of people who are caught drinking and driving more than four times.

Sen. Patricia H. Vance, R-Camp Hill, whose district includes parts of York County, supports it.

"Repossession, at first, it seems sort of drastic," she said. "But if they've done it four or more times, obviously they haven't got the message. We really need to get these serious offenders off the road."

If that law were in effect, several vehicles could have been seized in the last few years. Since 2006, about 160 people arrested in York County for drunken driving were charged with their fourth or subsequent offense, according to an analysis of data from the state Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Mackereth, who used to work in the York County district attorney's office, said taking away licenses from those convicted of drunken driving isn't working as a deterrent. It just makes it harder for those who are convicted to keep jobs and stable lives, she said.

Besides legislation, there are other local aspects to consider, Mackereth said, including the lack of public transportation in York's downtown.

There has been a push to get people out to restaurants and bars, but unless patrons are hoofing it or have a designated driver, there aren't a lot of options, Mackereth said. There is only one York County-based cab company, and it's small, so it often takes a while to get a cab.

"How do you bring people downtown without transportation?" she said. "It's easy to say they should have a designated driver, but does that really happen?"

Rehabilitation

Later this month, a group of county law-enforcement officials will travel to Athens, Ga., to receive training in running a DUI court.

Returning to York County, they will transform the Court of Common Pleas' pilot DUI treatment court into a full-time one.

The training's coordinator, David Wallace, who is also director for the National Center for DWI Courts, said the idea behind drug and alcohol courts is to "change the person's behavior with accountability, intensive supervision and intensive treatment. . . . putting them in jail doesn't change their behavior. As soon as they get out, they're back to their old patterns."

York County's pilot program targets repeat offenders, offering more court monitoring of rehabilitation progress in return for shorter terms in county jail, rather than longer stretches in state prison.

The DUI court's participants serve 90 days in county prison, and afterward they spend an additional 90 days wearing an ankle bracelet that records when the wearer drinks alcohol. A judge is able to access the ankle bracelet data by computer.

Since its inception in October, the York County DUI court has taken in nine offenders, all of whom have pledged to turn their lives around, York County Court of Common Pleas Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh.

Initial studies say these types of specialized DUI courts work.

A Michigan survey - published in the March issue of The DWI Court Reporter newsletter - said, "DWI court participants were re-arrested significantly less often than comparison group offenders who were sentenced to traditional probation."

The study also discovered that offenders placed in DUI courts have reduced drug use. The approach also costs taxpayers less than traditional probation, according to the study.

Wallace said they work because if participants violate their agreement with the court, they are swiftly penalized.

Colonial House, a West Manchester Township drug- and alcohol-treatment center, has a deep involvement with York County courts and drunken driving offenders. Those who are guilty of drunken driving must undergo an evaluation to determine if they have an alcohol or substance abuse problem - even first-time offenders, according to state law.

Antoinette Sacco, director of Colonial House's outpatient program, estimated "close to 75 percent" of their clientele are drunken driving offenders. Colonial House holds its Alcohol Highway Safety Course during weekends, mandatory for all drunken driving offenders.

The course delves into topics such as the reasons behind excessive drinking, and uses guest speakers from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Oppedal, of MADD, has taken part in numerous impact panels to speak about the 1989 drunken-driving crash that killed her husband, two children and a young neighbor.

At one of the victim impact meetings, she recalled how one offender said to her: "Don't tell me you and your husband never drove after you drank."

"Well, actually, we never did," Oppedal replied.

That conversation got her thinking. She realized there are people who believe alcohol is an integral part of their lives, she said.

"It is because you're dealing with human behavior and addiction," she said. "Even if we have the technology (to ensure) that no one who is impaired will be able to drive a vehicle, addiction will still be in the community."

tczech@ydr.com, 771-2033; ndobo@ydr.com, 771-2032.

DUI FACTS

  • Every year in the U.S., nearly 13,000 people are killed by drunken drivers, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

  • About 25 percent of York County's drunken drivers were picked up for DUI after a crash. About 28 percent were pulled over for a moving violation. About 20 percent were stopped for "weaving."

  • About 68 percent of York County's drunken drivers in 2007 were arrested between midnight and 4 a.m.

  • The average BAC of those charged with DUI in York County is 0.18. Nearly 30 percent - 642 people - had a BAC higher than 0.20.

    Sources: MADD and Pennsylvania Court Reporting Network

    ONLINE

  • Pennsylvania DUI Association: padui.org

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving: madd.org

  • Narcotics Anonymous: na.org

  • Alcoholics Anonymous: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org

    MADD'S EFFORTS

    In 2006, MADD launched its campaign to end drunken driving permanently. The goals:

  • mandatory ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers

  • increased law enforcement

  • advanced vehicle technology so a drunken person could not start a car

  • public support

    Since 2006, Arizona, Louisiana, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, Alaska and Colorado decided to require ignition interlocks for convicted drunken drivers, according to MADD's Web site.

    FOR MORE

    This week, the York Daily Record/Sunday News and inyork.com/ydr looks at the size and severity of drinking and driving, and what some believe can be effective solutions.

    See the full presentation: Over the limit: DUI in York County.