Hamilton - With drunk driving fatalities on an increase, state law enforcement and alcoholic beverage licensees today outlined actions they are implementing to avoid tragedies during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period.
A new television Public Service Announcement (PSA) that encourages the use of designated drivers debuted at the press conference held at Scoozi's Restaurant. Bill and Muriel Elliott of Egg Harbor Township, whose son, John, was killed by a drunk driver last year, are featured in the PSA and have created the HERO campaign to encourage people to be designated drivers.
"The worst tragedy is one that we don't learn from," Bill Elliott said. "Muriel and I live with our son's death each and every day. It is a pain that no one should have to endure. Drunk driving tragedies can be avoided and we're here today to urge everyone not get behind the wheel after drinking."
John Elliott, 22, was killed by a drunk driver on July 22, 2000. A recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, John Elliott was killed by a drunk driver who had been arrested for driving under the influence earlier that evening and then released into the custody of an adult acquaintance. The released driver got back behind the wheel and three hours later crashed into John Elliott's vehicle. Both men were killed.
As a result of John Elliott's death, the New Jersey Legislature passed a law that requires police to impound the vehicles of drivers arrested for driving while intoxicated. The law also requires police to issue written warnings to anyone who accepts custody of a drunk driving suspect. The law took effect on August 1, 2001.
In their son's memory, the Elliotts launched the HERO campaign, which urges people to be designated drivers for friends, family and acquaintances who have been drinking. Alcoholic beverage establishments across the state have joined the campaign, displaying posters and providing free soda and coffee to designated drivers.
"The message of 'don't drink and drive' must be consistent and constant," said State Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. "Establishments such as Scoozi's Restaurant that have joined the HERO campaign are part of the proactive effort to stop drunk driving before a key is put into an ignition. For those who don't heed the message, law enforcement at all levels will be out in force during the holidays, looking for the drunk driver who puts all motorists at risk."
Col. Peter J. O'Hagan, Director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, noted that after years of declines through the 1980s and most of the 1990s, alcohol-related fatalities are increasing in both New Jersey and the nation.
In New Jersey, there were a record-low 192 alcohol-related fatalities in 1998. Since then, alcohol-related deaths have risen to 211 in 1999 and 219 in 2000. The 219 alcohol-related fatalities in 2000 represent 30% of all roadway fatalities.
"The HERO campaign further enhances the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control's (ABC) efforts to ensure the responsible use of alcohol and ultimately end the senseless tragedies so often associated with excessive alcohol consumption and driving," ABC Director Jerry Fischer said. "Those licensed establishments that are participating in this campaign are to be commended for their commitment to ensuring public safety."
During the Christmas holiday period last year, eight fatal crashes resulting in nine deaths occurred statewide. Three of those crashes involved alcohol.
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