GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A convicted drunken driver is joining Michigan’s effort to prevent deadly drunken driving crashes this holiday season.
Mark Williams has seen the inside of a courtroom multiple times for drunken driving offenses. But Monday, he joined state police and traffic officials inside the Kent County Courthouse for a different reason.
“I’m here to encourage everyone to do the right thing and make smart decisions and get a safe ride home,” he said.
Now 19 months sober, Williams was convicted three times of drunken driving.
In the last incident, Williams was found passed out at a stop sign, with his car running and his foot on the brake.
“I’m just so thankful that I didn’t hurt myself or no one else,” he said.
Williams provides a unique perspective to Michigan’s Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, which starts Wednesday and runs through Dec. 10. Drivers can expect increased law enforcement patrols during that time.
“You’re thinking that … (if you) shut that one eye and thinking the stuff you’re seeing triple or double can come in to one. It’s really not that,” Williams said of his drunken driving experience. “It’s all an illusion.”
The statistics are sobering: 416 people were killed in drunken driving crashes statewide last year. Nationwide, an average of 10,000 people lose their lives in crashes involving drunken drivers each year.
But the numbers also offer clues as to who’s behind the wheel and when a crash is most likely to happen.
About half of the drivers involved in drunken driving crashes are under the age of 34.
Williams’ case went through the 61st District Court’s Sobriety Court. Drunken drivers with multiple offenses are assigned to that court, but their sentences are not more lenient. There’s jail time, loss of driving privileges, big fines and other consequences.
But there’s also increased supervision when they get out of jail, and they stay on probation until they’ve completed the sobriety court program.
Williams says he’s had to “regroom” himself since his case was assigned to the sobriety court.
“I had to find out that I was the person who had fun, not the alcoholic Mark. Not the Mark that needed to get drunk,” he said.
The sobriety court program began in 2001 and proved its worth within a decade.
“It was dramatic; it was more than a 50 percent reduction in four-year recidivism,” said 61st District Court Judge Jeanine LaVille
Williams is hoping that along with the rest of the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, his experience will help convince drivers that getting behind the wheel is just too dangerous.
“It’s not worth it,” said Williams. “It’s not worth it, man.”
Saturday and Sunday have the highest number of deadly crashes related to alcohol. They usually happen between 1 and 2 in the morning – the time many people leave Michigan bars.
As part of the push to curb drunken driving, the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning has posted a video on its website, asking visitors to spot the person in the bar most likely to cause a drunken driving crash.
This year, the agency is also urging people to think ahead before driving out to a party or bar, so they can avoid getting behind the wheel in the first place.
One method is to use a ride sharing service like Uber or Lyft to get home.
“We’re not saying, ‘Don’t go out and have fun and enjoy the holiday with your friends and family.’ We’re just asking you to do it responsibly,” said 1st Lt. Chris McIntyre from the Michigan State Police Rockford Post.