TENNESSEE – Tennessee state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and police in Shelby and Tipton counties will use a new weapon provided by state lawmakers to combat driving under the influence this Labor Day weekend, officials announced Friday.
A new “no refusal” law allows law enforcement officers to obtain search warrants and have blood samples drawn if drivers suspected of being under the influence refuse blood alcohol tests.
“This was the only area of Tennessee law where we let the criminals control the evidence,” said Dist. Atty. Mike Dunavant, whose 25th Judicial District includes Tipton County.
State Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers during the July Fourth weekend targeted five counties, including Davidson in Middle Tennessee, during a similar enforcement campaign.
“We did not have a single traffic fatality in those counties,” Gibbons said.
In Shelby County, state troopers, Memphis police and Shelby County sheriff’s deputies will be using the new law, said Shelby County Dist. Atty. Amy Weirich.
Judicial commissioners will be tapped to approve warrants around the clock and medical technicians will be available to draw blood samples in a process that could take a couple of hours while DUI suspects are held.
Dunavant said two judges will be on call to approve warrants in Tipton County. There, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and police in Atoka, Covington, Mason and Munford will be enforcing the “no refusal” law.
Shelby and Tipton are two of 16 counties targeted by the Labor Day weekend enforcement campaign that will begin at 6 p.m. Friday through the holiday on Monday.
Kendell Poole, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety office, said 30 percent of traffic fatalities are alcohol related. Tennessee had 939 fatalities in 2011, a record low, but still too many.
Gibbons said DUI-related crashes are up in Tennessee almost 9 percent. The Tennessee Highway Patrol is focusing on reducing fatalities and driving under the influence, with a 40 percent increase in DUI arrests in 2011 and a 29 percent jump so far this year.
Alcohol-related crashes in Shelby County have jumped about 15 percent this year, to 516 from 448 for the same period last year, according to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
In Tipton County, alcohol-related crashes this year have soared to 26 from 16 for the same period last year.
Traffic safety research has found that educating the public is an important element in reducing fatal crashes and that publicizing enforcement campaigns helps.
To announce the Labor Day weekend “no refusal” campaign, Gibbons, Dunavant, Weirich, Poole, Tipton County Sheriff J.T “Pancho” Chumley and other officials gathered on an auditorium stage in the Criminal Justice Center in Downtown Memphis.
Weirich said the “no refusal” law allows prosecutors to get the best evidence for prosecuting and convicting drunken drivers. Facing television cameras set up behind rows of empty seats in the auditorium, she offered a message to the public: “If your plans over the weekend involve drinking and driving, you better think twice about it.”
The other 14 counties are Chester, Weakley, Roane, Campbell, McMinn, Meigs, Robertson, Rutherford Jefferson, Sullivan, Cumberland, Warren, Bedford and Lincoln