The figures are numbing.

The average blood-alcohol level for drunken drivers in Somerset County is the second-highest in Pennsylvania, contributing to nearly two-thirds of all traffic fatalities on county highways, authorities say.

Looking to crack down on the habitual problem, law enforcement and community activists are banding together to form the county’s first DUI Task Force.

The task force will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Friday at the courthouse, officials said.

The county’s 18 municipal police departments will form the task force, working in conjunction with the state police once a one-year alcohol enforcement grant is in place this fall.

“The figures speak for themselves,” said Somerset Borough police Chief Randy Cox, project director for the task force.

“What we’re attempting to do is to stop looking at DUIs and other alcohol-related cases as individual, tragic incidents. We’re treating it as a problem that is facing the entire community of Somerset County.”

In 2004, the latest year statistics are available, 142 of 1,025 crashes in the county involved alcohol, including eight of 13 fatalities. The previous year, alcohol played a role in 17 of 24 traffic fatalities in the county.

While borough police have been working informally with the state police to conduct DUI checkpoints, Cox said more needs to be done.

The $37,558 grant from PennDOT will pay for equipment and salaries for eight sobriety checkpoints and intense roving patrols, Cox said.

Municipal police officers from the parts of the county where the checkpoints or patrols are taking place will handle the efforts in their back yard.

Officers from Somerset, for instance, won’t be called upon to travel to Windber or Confluence.

“This is going to be conducted in all areas of the county,” Cox said.

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