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May 14, 1993

HOT LINE WILL LET DRIVERS REPORT DUI SUSPECTS \ THE STATE POLICE SERVICE IS AVAILABLE TO SPRINT CUSTOMERS

When the Norfolk man saw a car swerve along Interstate 264, hit another car on Waterside Drive and then drive on, he grabbed his cellular phone and called police.

A dispatcher told him to wait for an officer. But when the drunk drove on, so did the man – through Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake, until three patrol cars ended the chase and he was finally able to hang up.

“I kept seeing my wife in that damaged car,” said the man, who asked not to be named. “I previously worked in an emergency room. I used to see what drunk driving can do.”

State police on Thursday urged other car-phone owners to report drunken drivers.

Along with Sprint Cellular and Hampton Roads Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the troopers announced the creation of a DUI hot line that will allow Sprint customers in southeastern Virginia to report suspected drunken drivers toll-free by dialing *DUI (*384).

It is the first time such a service has been available in Virginia, where there were 40,107 drunken-driving arrests last year, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Forty-five percent of the state’s 839 auto fatalities in 1992 were alcohol-related.

Sprint officials said the hot line has been successfully tested in Las Vegas and New Mexico. In Las Vegas, such calls have resulted in an average of five drunken-driving arrests a month.

But the extent of the local program is unknown because Sprint officials would say only that they had “many thousands of customers” and would not release an exact number.

There may be some minor problems with the new system.

The calls go into one of only three 911 phone lines at state police headquarters in Chesapeake. Police are asking callers to stay on the line if there is no answer.

Robert Sage, Sprint’s general manager for Hampton Roads, also said the new system is meant to encourage callers to report drunken drivers, not police them.

“This is going to put people on notice,” said Michael Goodove, a local MADD official. “Now, everyone with a cellular phone is going to have the power to turn suspected drunk drivers in.”

Copyright (c) 1993 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 9305140630