Stark County Safe Communities recently announced the Stark County OVI Task Force received an award from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The award was in recognition of the agency’s combined effort to raise awareness of the dangers of impaired driving during the National Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign this past August.

Sharon George of Stark County Safe Communities said the OVI Task Force was recognized for the group’s commitment to traffic safety, to change unsafe behaviors, save lives and mitigate injuries involving motor vehicle crashes.

"The award was given for all of the activities held throughout the two-week national campaign from Aug. 19 Sept. 5," George said. "One of the events we and other community groups held was a memorial checkpoint in memory of Christopher Zehe, who was a victim of an impaired driver. The family attended a luncheon and told Christopher’s story. Officers at the checkpoint handed out memorial cards that told his story to people they stopped."

Law enforcement officers from 16 agencies in the county worked together on the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign through enforcement and educational efforts to build awareness to the dangers of driving impaired.  There were 40 OVI arrests made and 27 felony arrests made during the two-week campaign.

George said Stark County Safe Communities is the educational component of building awareness. She said the organization strives to bring attention to the victims so that people realize how families are affected because "someone made the decision to drive while impaired."

"Part of what we want to do is to give more meaning by telling the stories of the victims versus giving out statistics. One example is the story of a grandmother driving her grandson down her street to get a blue Slurpee. The car was hit by another vehicle driven by an impaired driver. The grandmother died," George said. "A young mother and wife lost her life one evening when the family was driving home after spending the day together and they were hit by a young driver who was driving impaired. The kids lost their mother and the husband lost his wife."

It’s the first year for the award. Jack Fleming from the Ohio Traffic Safety Office presented the award during a regular meeting of the OVI Task Force. George said many were surprised by the recognition. 

Keeping people safe on the roadways is important. George said statistics show that people die every 15 to 16 minutes in a traffic accident.

"Traffic enforcement officers don’t get a lot of recognition," George said. "Officers who take down a drug bust or solve a homicide get much deserved recognition but the traffic officers also make a huge contribution by keeping impaired drivers off the road. It’s hard to measure how many lives those actions have saved."