Outside a bar, next door to a liquor store, on the road leading to the Cumberland Avenue Strip... the locations of 15 street signs installed three weeks ago to encourage drivers to "Be Aware, Don't Drive Impaired" were carefully chosen by the Knoxville Police Department.
A chanting rhyme in black letters on white background with red circle and slash over the initials DUI could only be placed at a "gateway" to alcohol consumption establishments, including Kingston Pike near Ray's Entertainment Sports Grill, Central Avenue near the Old City, and Chapman Highway near the South Side Liquor Store.
"We're not picking on any establishments; we're just trying to reach the traffic that is coming into areas where people are served alcohol," says Sgt. Savannah Ayub, who conceived the project when she and her husband (a lieutenant with the KPD) saw eye-catching signs on an interstate outside Atlanta reminding that drunk drivers kill.
The idea, says Keith Black, the city Signs and Marking crew leader who supervised the sign installation, is for signs to catch people while they're still in control of the night's activities. "Once they're leaving the bar, they're already drunk, and they're not paying attention to a sign," he says. "These signs grab your attention coming in."
It took Ayub a year to bring the project to fruition. "I had to get permission to place the signs on state routes, and I worked with TDOT and the city engineering department," she says.
Grants coordinator Janet Gorman worked to get a Governor's Highway Safety Grant that paid for it all. "It came out to $2,000.04 to place, prep, and create," says Ayub.
Whether the signs work as intended will be evaluated after several months, says KPD Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk. A reduction in DUI arrests wouldn't necessarily be indicative, because the awareness project dovetails with the city's stepped-up efforts to enforce DUI infractions.
"If you look at the numbers, in 2005 we charged 818 motorists with DUI, and in 2006 that number jumped to 1,443," says DeBusk. "In 2007, DUI charges reached 1,681." More telling might be a dip in motorists involved in crashes who have been drinking. In Knoxville in 2007, that number was 1,075.
Eric Felix, 21, an upcoming senior at the University of Tennessee who drinks at bars on the Strip, has noticed the signs posted at either entrance to the main drag. "It kind of felt like they were saying, ‘You're in a DUI zone now. If you leave here drunk, you'll be fine. It's only when you're here that you have to worry.'"
Ayub, though, is glad he noticed the signs at all, because she's confident the message might work subliminally, or come back to a driver at a later date. "If you notice, I didn't say, ‘Beware!'—I said, ‘Be aware,'" says Ayub. "It's a reminder, it's not too much in your face. Something to look at."
—additional reporting by Robert Baldus