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Officials hoping to reduce impaired driving through enforcement, encouragement

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Posted at 5:15 PM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 20:00:18-05

SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — Historically, one of the biggest nights of the year to drink alcohol, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — also known as Blackout Wednesday — will also feature an enhanced law enforcement presence to deter and spot intoxicated drivers. Additionally, the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, along with area law firms, have partnered with the rideshare service Lyft to offer special one-time use codes for a free ride home.

Despite a 13% decrease in the number of miles driven by Americans in 2020, there was a 9% increase in the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2020. In Ohio, more than half of traffic fatalities in 2020 were the result of an impaired driver. With the confluence of alcohol and a desire to celebrate with friends and family after nearly two years of the ongoing pandemic, law enforcement officials are encouraging people to celebrate responsibly.

“We understand that everyone is really excited to gather again and give thanks and do so in a manner that we can enjoy. If you’re planning on doing any of those things, just plan ahead,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Sergeant Ray Santiago. “It’s historically a time where we do see an increased presence of impaired drivers on our roadways, which is exactly why you will see an increased presence of troopers on the roadways to make sure that everyone is getting to where they’re going to safely.”

Officials across Northeast Ohio have rolled out programs and initiatives to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic crashes. The Willoughby Police Department announced this week that officers will not be enforcing the overnight parking ordinance to vehicles left on any public lot or city street on Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.

Beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and continuing through Friday, people in Summit County can receive a free ride home through Lyft by using the code SUMMIT1121. For the third year in a row, the county prosecutor’s office and several law firms have partnered with the rideshare service. There are 300 one-time use codes available.

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Tania Nemer, the community outreach prosecutor for the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, hopes people take advantage of the program.

“Thanksgiving especially is known as Drinks-giving or Blackout Wednesday, which you have today. That’s why we’re providing these rides today, tomorrow and Friday just to let you enjoy your time with your family but also know that you have to be safe when doing it,” Nemer said. “Drinking and driving causes deaths. We must stop that. We have to do everything we can. I know there are resources that are out there, but here is a free one.”

Between programs like those in Summit County, other rideshare services and traditional taxi providers, there are numerous options that celebrants can utilize to avoid drinking and driving, Santiago said.

“Whatever it is, whatever is going to impair you, you 100 percent have a decision to make in getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. Deadly crashes are 100% avoidable," Santiago said. “[The anti-impaired driving] efforts are never going to stop. Everyone accuses a trooper of chasing a number but we are — and that number is zero. Because until we get to zero traffic fatalities, we are always going to have work to do.”