Florida Keys

In the bar-happy Florida Keys, DUIs down 13% since 2012

The stigma associated with driving under the influence might have something to do with decreased drunk-driving arrests in the Florida Keys.

“The impact is so much more paramount than it was in the past,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said. “Maybe people are finally starting to get it.”

According to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ annual uniform traffic citation reports from 2012 through 2014, DUI arrests are down more than 13 percent in Monroe County since 2012.

In 2014, there were 345 Keys DUI arrests, down from 362 in 2013. In 2012, there were 398 arrests for drunk driving in Monroe County. That’s for all Keys law enforcement agencies.

Ramsay said in addition to the stigma, people being aware of police DUI checkpoints might have an impact. The Sheriff’s Office sets up three or four such checkpoints a year, and word spreads quickly through social media. The most recent DUI checkpoint was set up on Stock Island in January, according to Ramsay.

Nonetheless, Janet Mondshein, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Miami-Dade County affiliate, said that as a whole, there is lack of commitment to DUI enforcement from police departments.

“DUIs [checkpoints] are very difficult to do. If you’re not really trained, then you’re not going to want to do them,” Mondshein said.

Florida DUI laws have been strengthened as of late. In June 2014, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that allows judges to mandate the placement of an auto ignition lock for first-time convicted DUI offenders. In Florida, someone with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent is considered legally drunk.

The locking device is a tube that measures blood alcohol content before allowing the vehicle to start. The driver must give his or her breath sample on the installed tube, and if the reading is more than .025 , a violation is logged and the vehicle won’t start.

Ramsay said drunk driving is not socially accepted like it was years ago. The impact can range from affecting future employment to state prison for someone convicted of DUI manslaughter. And even getting probation for a DUI will cost the defendant thousands of dollars in fines, fees, supervision costs and more.

“It’s not a badge of honor. These things will haunt you the rest of your life,” Ramsay said.