CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Governor’s Highway Safety Program’s “Highway2Enforcement Conference” will take place from May 23-25. This year’s conference will bring educational opportunities for law enforcement officials to help them recognize impaired driving in the state.

Bob Tipton, director of highway safety in the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles, said drunk driving arrests are down during a recent appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

“Last year, we had the lowest alcohol fatality rate ever in West Virginia,” Tipton said. That rate came in at 68 for 2017. “I can remember a time, when I first started this job, it (the rate) was one of the 6th highest in the nation, so we’ve made vast improvements.”

However, there has been a recent increase in drug-related fatalities.

“That’s really what we’re seeing is a huge decrease in alcohol-related driving fatalities and a big increase in drug-related fatalities,” Tipton said. The percentage of impaired driving has been decreasing slightly, but the drug-related driving is causing the percentage to stagnate.

With Memorial Day Weekend approaching and road travel increasing the state, the goal of the conference is to help police officers better identify those who are driving under the influence of drugs.

“It’s always been a big problem in the past, because there wasn’t a whole lot of training in relation to drugged driving. So, we’re trying to really drive that home and get police officers more comfortable with identifying drugged-driving,” Tipton said.

Currently, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department leads the state in agency arrests and the county has zero roadway fatalities this year.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the dedicated effort of the law enforcement in Jefferson County, not just the sheriff’s department but the State Police and all agencies working together and that’s what it really takes to make this thing work,” Tipton said. “We’re all on the same page and we’re all looking out for the same thing.”

With road construction going on throughout the state, Tipton knows driving can be more dangerous, but through decreasing the speed limit in work zones and reminding drivers to pay attention, potential accidents can be prevented. Wearing a seatbelt is still one of important laws that are being pushed.

“Right now, we’re in the ‘Click It or Ticket’ mobilization period, so we’ve got a lot of law enforcement out there working, not just looking for seatbelts, but they’re looking for all the violations,” Tipton said.

Throughout the summer as travel picks up, Tipton wants drivers to stay safe. “We’re just asking West Virginia motorists to please be careful and pay attention,” he said.

Story by Jordyn Johnson

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