Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week celebrated his father’s legacy of staving off alcohol use by kids and young adults.
Tuesday was the 30-year anniversary of Gov. Mario Cuomo raising New York state’s drinking age from 19 to 21. The elder Cuomo at the time called it “a victory for common sense.”
“He was right,” the current governor said in a press release Tuesday. “Countless lives have been saved over the past 30 years, and this administration is committed to continuing this legacy by finding ways to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors, maintain safe roads and educate New Yorkers about the dangers of drinking while driving.”
Cuomo touted a 60 percent decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities in New York in the 30 years since.
“I’m in favor of the law being 21,” said Olean police Chief Jeff Rowley. “I think it definitely makes the roads a safer place to drive. … Any time you can lessen the number of young people on the roads driving under the influence is a good thing.”
According to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, the number of alcohol-related fatalities in police‑reported motor vehicle crashes has dropped progressively from 750 in 1984 to 292 in 2014. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes youths who drink alcohol are more likely to experience alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries; school, social, legal and physical problems; abuse of other drugs and death from alcohol poisoning.
Penalties and enforcement have grown more stringent.
A host of initiatives, including the state’s Stop-DWI program, have further protected drivers. In interviews with the Times Herald, Allegany County Stop-DWI coordinator Linda Edwards often touts crackdown efforts featuring boosted patrols and checkpoints between local, county and state authorities, especially during holiday periods known for alcohol flowing loosely.
“What we want is for people to make good choices about their alcohol consumption,” Edwards said, announcing a crackdown in Allegany County during this Thanksgiving weekend. “If you’re drinking, don’t drive. It’s that simple. We just want people to be safe and keep those around them safe.”
The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee then announced just one alcohol-related crash fatality in the state between Nov. 25 and 29. There were 218 drivers arrested for driving while intoxicated, an increase over 172 during last year’s crackdown, state officials said.
“Increased enforcement, education and stricter laws have all played a role in keeping impaired drivers off of New York’s roads,” state police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said. “The state police are dedicated to making our streets safe for all drivers and passengers. We will continue to work with the Department of Motor Vehicles and our law enforcement partners to curb drunk driving and to prevent needless injuries and deaths.”
Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman believes there’s more to be done.
“I think it has probably made the roads safer — less drunk drivers — but I don’t think it has reduced related crimes or resulted in a decrease of alcohol abuse,” Rieman said. “The change in law predates me, but it seems that many of our crimes involve underage intoxicated individuals. Even though bars and stores cannot sell to minors, they are still getting alcohol somehow.”
Cuomo signed a law in 2014 imposing a class D felony charge and a fine of up to $10,000 on motorists convicted of driving while intoxicated or driving while ability impaired three or more times within 15 years.
Additionally, the State Liquor Authority successfully prosecuted 2,039 violations for selling to minors in 2014, a 19 percent increase from 2013 and a 97 percent jump over 2010, state officials said.
To Rowley, that’s another positive.
“In general, the crackdown amongst the businesses, the places that sell alcohol, really helps, as well,” he said. “You see anywhere you go, ‘We card 30,’ ‘We card 40.’ They’re taking a stance. I have no doubt that over the years it has saved lives.”