State police reported Troop B, encompassing state police stations in Uniontown, Waynesburg, Belle Vernon, Washington and Pittsburgh, saw a 17.9% decrease of DUI arrests in 2020.
Across the state of Pennsylvania, state police saw a 17% decrease. With a total of 1,765 DUI arrests, Troop B was fourth in DUI arrests across the state as apposed to second last year. Both this year and last, they were second in DUI-related crashes, with 404 reported in 2020.
Trooper Robert Broadwater, spokesman for state police in Uniontown, said the decrease is likely heavily related to the pandemic, as fewer vehicles on the road made it easier for police to spot impaired drivers, and deterred people from driving impaired. In addition, he said the bar closures last year likely led to more people drinking at home instead of driving to other locations to drink.
“With all the bars mostly being shut down, that had a huge impact on the decrease,” he said. “However, the state store alcohol purchases were at an all time high, so people would buy their alcohol and go home.”
Although state police hope the numbers continue to fall, Broadwater said they are prepared for a rise now that more people are getting vaccinated and the risk of COVID-19 wanes. He urged people to be responsible during their outings so that rise doesn’t occur.
“With everybody being cooped up for the past year, and following the CDC guidelines to stay home, I think people are going to have that COVID fatigue,” he said. “They are going to want to get out and hang out with family and friends, especially in the hot summer months.”
Broadwater said over the past few years, they have encountered fewer DUI incidents related to alcohol and more related to drugs, including prescription medication. He encouraged people to make sure they read their prescription medication thoroughly to understand what activities they can and cannot do while on the prescription.
Bill Miller, DUI supervisor for the Fayette County Drug & Alcohol Commission, said the pandemic led to many possible triggers for people with addiction to drugs and alcohol, such as loss of jobs, loss of family members and not being able to visit friends and family as often.
These incidents can make people turn toward harmful habits, he said.
“Promoting behavior change is the goal, and if somebody got into a bad mental health state and use substances to cope with it, then it becomes harder to change that behavior,” he said.
Miller said Fayette County D&A stayed open during the pandemic, operating mostly virtually until the past few months. Now they are bringing back in-person meetings and programs. Miller said in-person meetings tend to be more helpful and encourage people to open up more, but it all depends on the person. He said he is unsure whether virtual meetings will continue to be an option at the organization as they bring back in-person activity.
The state police also offer DUI programs for organizations, schools and businesses to schedule with them, Broadwater said. His main advice is for people to use common sense and be alert and aware of what they’re putting into their body, as well as encouraging others to do the same.