Twelve people died in vehicle crashes in 2012 in Franklin County, Tenn. That's an increase of more than 300 percent from 2011's four-year low of two traffic fatalities.
Source: Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
Safety officers at all levels in Franklin County, Tenn., are stepping up traffic enforcement in the face of a sixfold increase in fatalities in 2012.
Five of the county's 12 fatalities in 2012 were linked to drunken driving, Sheriff Tim Fuller said Thursday, so local law enforcement agencies will "refocus efforts" on traffic enforcement with specific attention on impaired drivers.
The Governor's Highway Safety Office, Tennessee Highway Patrol, city and county law enforcement agencies and the Franklin County Prevention Coalition teamed up on the campaign launched this year, officials said. Police departments in Estill Springs, Decherd, Cowan, Huntland and Sewanee joined the effort, too.
"Early numbers indicate that alcohol [contributed] to 27 percent of traffic fatalities on Tennessee highways in 2012," Governor's Highway Safety Office Director Kendall Poole said in a release on the Franklin County campaign. "Drinking and driving continues to be a serious issue."
Fuller said last year's fatality numbers were the highest since 2007, when 14 people died in crashes.
"Nine of them had alcohol involved," Fuller said. "We really took a hard focus on the DUI aspect of it then."
Winchester Police Chief Dennis Young said traffic statistics show that when police pay more attention to traffic, the number of accidents drops.
If officers in the county seat conduct between 500 and 550 traffic stops a month, accidents can decline by as much as half, Young said. If stops drop to near 400 a month, accidents rise.
"We're not trying to write more speeding tickets or anything like that," the chief said.
"The overwhelming majority of people stopped don't get a citation," he said. "We're going to focus on trouble spots and make people more conscious of their driving habits."
Fuller and Young said numbers went back down immediately after the 2007 spike, while DUI arrests continued to rise in the years since.
"You'd think people would get the message about DUI, but it's ... more prevalent than ever before," Fuller said.
The sheriff said the shift in focus shouldn't have a financial impact on law enforcement. The state pays for officer overtime spent on DUI enforcement.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...