Police plan to crack down on impaired drivers

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 20, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 19, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Lt. Kevin Russell, right, of the Benton Police Department looks on as department employee Valarie Boyette demonstrates part of the roadside sobriety test.

Party-goers beware is the warning from law enforcement officers across the region as they launch a holiday crackdown to stop impaired drivers and help save lives on the roadways.

Arkansas State Troopers and the state’s police departments have begun aggressively looking for drunk and drugged drivers in a special Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over operation.

“If your celebration includes drinking alcohol, please celebrate responsibly. Don’t take a chance, because chances are you’ll be caught,” said Col. Stan Witt, Arkansas State Police director and Governor’s Highway Safety representative. “The choice is yours. Designate a driver, or one will be appointed for you, straight to jail.”

The Benton Police Department has pledged to arrest anyone caught driving while impaired and stepped up patrols starting Dec. 12.

“Additional officers are on duty, with the overtime funds coming from the National Highway Safety Administration’s Special Traffic Enforcement Program or STEP, for saturation patrols,” said Benton Police Lt. Kevin Russell. “There is also a possibility of sobriety checkpoints through Jan. 1.”

Law enforcement officers see more traffic accidents that are alcohol- and drug-related this time of year, with the daily peak time coming between midnight and 5 a.m., Russell said.

“That is after the bars close and people are headed home,” he said. “But, we arrest people for DWI (driving while impaired) all day long. I have personally arrested people in broad daylight for drunk driving.”

Last year, 34 percent of all the traffic fatalities in Arkansas were alcohol-related, according to statistics from the Arkansas State Police. This translates into 190 lives lost on Arkansas roadways in one year due to alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, the Arkansas State Police said in a joint announcement with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

“Lots of folks will be out during the busy holiday season, enjoying themselves and the holiday festivities, and we want everyone to be safe on our roadways. If you are caught drinking and driving impaired, you will be arrested. No warning and no excuses,” Russell said.

MADD suggests that party hosts include alcohol-free beverages and protein-rich foods, along with reminding guests to plan ahead and remember some advice:

• If you plan to drive, don’t drink.

• If you drink, choose a sober designated driver.

• Take a taxicab or ask someone to get you to your designation, if you have been drinking.

• Report impaired drivers to law enforcement.

• Always wear your safety belt, your best defense against an impaired driver.

“Drunk-driving crashes are not accidents,” said Pam Sell, Arkansas program manager of MADD. “These crashes are entirely preventable if motorists would forego a holiday activity that can often lead to tragedy — getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after drinking or using other drugs.”

Alcohol remains the cause of most impaired-driving incidents, but Russell said officers are seeing impaired drivers under the influence of other drugs.

“That is why each shift of our traffic patrols includes a drug-recognition expert,” he said. “They have a series of exams that are more extensive than alcohol tests and are able to determine what kinds of drugs were taken, including prescription drugs.”

Russell said even if a driver has a prescription, if he does not heed the warning not to operate a vehicle while using that drug, he is guilty of driving while impaired.

“No one thinks that their holiday celebration will end in jail, or worse, in a hospital or morgue,” Russell said. “We will be out in force to help save lives, and we are not going to tolerate impaired driving.”

It is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher. According to state law enforcement officers, violators will face jail time, loss of their driver’s licenses and steep financial consequences such as attorney and court costs, lost work time and higher insurance rates.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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