2016-12-29 / Local News

Drunk driving arrests soar 30%; should cell phones share blame?

More folks drinking, driving
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

We’ve all heard the latest slogan aimed at keeping drunken drivers off the road: “Drive sober or get pulled over.”

But it seems that fewer people in Leelanau County are listening, as drunk driving arrests increased from 87 in 2015 to 111 this year as of Dec. 17 — a nearly 30 percent increase, with New Year’s Eve still approaching.

Statistics were provided by the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office.

Alcohol-related crashes also increased, from 23 in 2015 to 30 as of Christmas Eve, when a 28-yearold drunken driver lost control of his SUV, went off the road and crashed into a tree.

The driver, a resident of Northport, was sent to Munson Medical Center with injuries.

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said he thinks there is a general apathy in society that is contributing to an increase in substance abuse.

“I think there are a lot of people getting drunk or stoned to get them through the day,” Borkovich said. “They’re getting high on marijuana, they’re getting high on meth, they’re getting high on heroin, and there is a problem with prescription drugs.”

Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that nationally, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths in 2014, or about 31 percent of overall driving fatalities.

None of the local crashes resulted in death.

Borkovich said many people who are pulled over and ultimately convicted of drunken driving are also under the influence of drugs.

“It’s not an easy thing to put a number on, but I would say it’s the vast majority,” Borkovich said.

In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older — or about 9.4 percent of the population — had used an illicit drug in the past month, according to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). That number is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.

The most commonly used illicit drug is marijuana, according to the NIDA.

But Borkovich said alcohol can be smelled by deputies when someone is pulled over and is much easier, faster and cheaper to test for.

The rising numbers of drunk driving arrests reflects both the apathy Borkovich sees and the good job that deputies are doing, he said.

“We have very, very good and fair deputies out there who are not stressed, they’re out there doing their jobs and functioning at a high level,” Borkovich said.

They also live in this area and want their families to be safe on the roads, he said.

Shari Bernstein has been a substance abuse counselor since 2002, practicing in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.

Bernstein thinks the increase in alcohol and drug abuse is being caused by an increase in the use of technology and the social disconnect that goes hand-in-hand with that, as well as the instant gratification everyone has become accustomed to.

Bernstein said she remembers having to wait a week for the next episode of a show. Now you can binge-watch an entire season, she said.

People are spending too much time on their computers and cell phones and not enough time with real social interactions.

“We are social creatures, we need that community and we try to replicate it with social media and that’s not working.” Bernstein said.

When people start drinking at a young age their brains become hard-wired, Bernstein said, and as adults they don’t have the coping skills they need.

“When someone is feeling a little off, a little down, a little bored it’s so easy to go right to something that will make you feel better immediately.”

For many, that’s a drink or a drug.

What’s the solution?

Bernstein said more community and less judgment of those with alcoholism and addiction is a start.

“The other piece is, don’t get into the damn car if you drink,” she said.

Borkovich said he doesn’t understand why people feel compelled to get high every day. But it’s not his job to get drunks and drug addicts into treatment.

It is his job, though, to get them off the roads.

“My end of it as sheriff is to be a good moral leader and set an example for the community,” he said. “I’m the ‘just-say-no’ guy.”

Borkovich can understand that substance abusers need help, but that’s a job for doctors, psychologists and others.

“I’m the one who has to put you in jail if you drive drunk on M-22. I’m the one who puts up that wall.”

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