By Doug Ireland
---- — The state has been awarded $1.4 million in federal grant money to reduce drunken driving, increase seatbelt use and improve motorcycle safety.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H., announced the grant approval yesterday.
"Highway safety is something that affects every New Hampshire driver," Kuster said in a statement. "This funding will help the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency continue its essential work of keeping our drivers safe and our roads secure.
The money, administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is from three grants that will help improve safety throughout the Granite State, according to Peter Thomson, coordinator of the state's Highway Safety Agency. New Hampshire received roughly the same amount last year, he said.
"It's exceptionally helpful because you wouldn't be able to have the programs," Thomson said.
Of that money, $1.1 million would be spent on preventing drunken driving, he said. That includes purchasing Breathalyzers and establishing sobriety checkpoints, which require deploying eight to 16 police officers at a particular location to nab drunken drivers, Thomson said.
"They couldn't do that without that money," he said.
The money for checkpoints would be distributed to county sheriff's offices, along with state and local police, he said. The number of checkpoints that would be added was not available.
The more money the state receives, the more police can do to stop drunken driving, Thomson said.
Two years ago, $100,358 in checkpoint funding led to 9,619 motor vehicle stops at 46 checkpoints across the state. Fifty drivers were charged with driving while intoxicated, according to Highway Safety Agency statistics.
Approximately 600 drivers faced other charges, including illegal possession of alcohol, or motor vehicle violations, the agency said.
Increased funding for checkpoints has made a significant difference in combating drunken driving," Thomson said.
The 44 checkpoints in 2012 and the 46 in 2011 are an improvement over 13 in 2005 and 32 in 2006, but much fewer than the 67 in 2009.
While only 890 vehicles were stopped and 10 DWI arrests made in 2005, there were 13,950 stops in 2009 and 94 DWI arrests. That's partly because $8,683 was spent on checkpoints in 2005, compared to $116,207 in 2009, according to the Highway Safety Agency.
Another chunk of the new grant money — $295,744 — will be used to fund the state's seat belt education program.
The program teaches drivers and children the importance of wearing seat belts.
"We do a lot of work with young people and try to get them buckled up," Thomson said.
State law requires anyone under 18 to wear seat belts, he said. Young children must be strapped in safety seats.
Thomson said the state's most recent seat belt use survey revealed that at least 70 percent of New Hampshire residents said they wore seat belts.
"I'm happy we are making progress with seat belts," he said.
The remaining grant money — $34,286 — will fund motorcycle safety programs.
Former state Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, a motorcycle training instructor with the state Division of Motor Vehicles, said the money will fund efforts to educate riders on how to avoid accidents. Part of that training will include use of The-REV, a simulator that shows riders what rough road conditions can be like.
He said the program has had a 99.96 percent success rate since it began in 1990. Of the 45,000 motorcyclists trained in that time period, he said, only 16 were killed.
"That's how good the training is," he said. "It saves lives."