Over the past 10 years, funding for DWI enforcement and education has dropped significantly, as drunk and drug-impaired driving cases rise.
State lawmakers Donna Lupardo and Tim Kennedy had been seeking additional funding to rebuild the STOP DWI program, which saw its funds diminish over the years. Now, $500,000 in funding is on its way to programs across New York state.
"This is life safety. And a DWI isn't just a ticket. It's the potential that you can get into a car accident and potentially take a life and you can't get that life back,” said Patrick Dewing, director of the Broome County Emergency Services Department.
It’s a crime that often ends with much more than simple ticket. According to the Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37 people in the U.S. die in drunk driving crashes every day.
It’s a rising number that law enforcement agencies have found it harder and harder to tackle.
“Unfortunately, I would say the issue as of late has probably evolved into a greater issue for law enforcement across the state, not just with alcohol-impaired drivers, but of course with designer drugs and with recreational use cannabis. It is an issue that that we're concerned with globally,” said Broome County Sheriff Fred Akshar.
Despite this increase, statewide STOP-DWI programs have seen their funding cut by 55% since 2010.
In Broome County, this lack of funding has forced the once-standalone department to merge into emergency services. This has limited how counties across the state can tackle the issue.
"Funding is such a key component to this program, so without funding, we really can't do education, we can't do training, we can't do public outreach. And for years, the funding has been decreasing year after year after year,” said Dewing.
This lead Assemblywoman Lupardo and State Sen. Kennedy to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to add STOP DWI funding into the state’s budget. It also looked to address an old law where surcharges collected through DWIs were going to the general fund. Lupardo and Kennedy want that money to instead go directly to this program.
"The program has been alive for over 40 years, and we know that in the first 10 years alone, we saw a dramatic decrease in drunk driving fatalities, probably a 70% decrease. And we know now more than ever with new drugs on the market, opioids and the like, that we need to provide assistance for the sheriff and others who are out there doing this tough work," Lupardo said.
Lupardo, a Democrat, and Akshar worked in a bipartisan effort on this issue a few years ago, when Akshar was a Republican in the State Senate.
While lawmakers didn’t get the total funding they had hoped for, many believe it’s a step in the right direction.
“Our efforts have gotten on the radar. People are talking about the DWI program. It integrates into the work that we're doing on the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Everyone's concerned about safety on the roads and you have a program with a stellar history like DWI. They need to have the resources to do the job right,” said Lupardo.
“Every dollar matters, whether it's enforcement or whether it's education or whether it's prevention. You can't stand up a robust program, you know, globally and across the board unless the dollars are there,” said Akshar.
Since the passage of the budget, the governor has also announced an additional $750,000 to support STOP DWI efforts across the state.