MIAMI COUNTY — The Troy and West Milton Rotary clubs kicked off its 16th annual Designated Driver campaign to encourage folks to not only buckle up, but also “button up” to make the roads safe this holiday season.
Along with the traditional Christmas red and green, local Rotarians are encouraging folks to don blue and gold Designated Driver buttons, which have become part of the Miami County holiday tradition.
On Tuesday, Dr. Michael Pope launched the Troy and West Milton Rotary Club’s “Designated Driver” button campaign along with Major Steve Lord from the Miami County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio State Highway Patrol Piqua Post Commander Lt. Joe Gebhart during the annual campaign kickoff at the Troy Country Club.
“This is 16 years of no alcohol related deaths over the holidays,” Dr. Pope said. “Everybody who is going to have a party this year with alcohol, please have a designated driver there.”
A team of volunteers will distribute nearly 7,000 golden buttons to local bars, restaurants, banks, state liquor stores and drive-thrus throughout the county who support the initiative.
Pope started the campaign after reading about a similar program started by a Rotary club in Tennessee. Dr. Pope then modified it to the Miami County area beginning in 1998.
Saving lives and keeping people’s loved ones safe is what keeps Pope excited about the Designated Drive button program each year. Prior to the Rotary Club’s campaign, four to six drivers were involved in alcohol-related accidents or fatalities in Miami County.
Pope said nearly 1,000 Designated Driver buttons are distributed through the local state liquor stores. Pope said the store clerks have shared how some patrons stop in just for the buttons to pass out among friends and family to spread the message during the holidays.
“They go in to buy liquor, they want the buttons because they know people who do drink and do have parties and they want to make sure they had the Designated Driver buttons to help remind people to stay safe — the word is getting around,” Pope said. “The community really has embraced this program.”
“Dr. Pope has been a life-long Rotarian and this program is really his brain child,” said Kathleen Moore, Rotary spokesperson. “He has a passion for safety. He obviously cares about the health of individuals with his chiropractic work, but he also feels that having the visual reminder of the gold button is another way for people to make smarter choices during the holiday season.”
OVIs on the rise in 2016
According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Miami County reported 11 fatal crashes in 2015 with four of those fatalities being OVI related. To date, Miami County has had eight reported road fatalities, three of which have been OVI-related.
Miami County also has reported 164 OVIs in 2016 with a reported 193 OVI enforcement citations so far in 2016.
Both Major Lord and Lt. Gebhart said their law enforcement personnel appreciate the program each year. Both have said deputies and troopers have seen the visual reminders of the Designated Driver buttons on drivers during the increased patrols during the holiday seasons.
“We appreciate the Rotary clubs doing a program like this. It definitely makes a difference. I think that we’ve seen an impact in the community. Education is very important and the community involvement is extra important,” Lt. Gebhart said.
Lt. Gebhart said OSHP will have its extra units out and looking for impaired drivers.
“We hope the trend continues and everyone is responsible,” Lt. Gebhart said.
Major Lord and Lt. Gebhart said they’d like to see the trend continue to keep the Miami County area fatality-free during the holidays.
“I think there are a lot of tools out there (Uber, cabs, DD buttons) and the stats are showing it is effective,” Major Lord said. “We are actually seeing less fatalities and injuries, but we are still seeing our fair share of arrests.”
Major Lord said the sheriff’s office patrol will use the remainder of its designated 660 hours of increased patrol units throughout the county during the holiday season to remove impaired drivers from the roadways. The extra time was made possible through a grant awarded to the department.