While most people will work fewer hours over the holidays, local law enforcement officers will work more as part of a campaign to deter holiday celebrants from drinking and driving.
“We would rather (work extra hours) than knock on someone’s door and tell them their loved one will not be coming home,” said Capt. Tom Bowman of the Alaska State Troopers. “Hopefully we will prevent fatalities.”
The number of fatalities due to alcohol-related automotive accidents increases over the holidays and, in response, the Alaska Highway Safety Office is sponsoring a grant to pay police and troopers to work longer hours, Bowman said.
“There’s a lot of office parties where people start drinking early in the day,” Bowman said. And the drinking often continues elsewhere after the office party has ended.
If more people chose alternate means of transportation or made plans with friends who are not drinking many lives could be saved, Bowman said.
“It’s much cheaper to take alternate transportation than kill somebody or wreak your car,” Bowman said. “(And) hopefully we all have friends who don’t drink. It’s just a matter of friends helping friends and planning.”
In Soldotna, police will work approximately 100 hours in addition to their usual schedule over the next two weekends.
“We’ll definitely increase the chances that someone will get caught,” said Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking. “We’re hoping it’s enough to deter people from driving drunk.”
As few as two drinks can put a driver over the legal limit, so no one ought to be driving after more than one, he said.
Trooper spokesperson Greg Wilkinson said troopers want the public to know that they will be out in full force over the holidays.
“If people are scared of being arrested, maybe they won’t drink and drive,” Wilkinson said.
The number of Americans who die in drinking and driving accidents each year is staggering, said Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp.
In 2004, drinking and driving accidents killed 16,694 Americans, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
If a jumbo jet crashed every week for 52 weeks, the United States still would lose fewer people to airplane accidents than it does to drunk driving, but the airplane fatalities would receive a lot more attention than drinking and driving fatalities do, Kopp said.
In addition, the NHTSA statistic does not include people physically, emotionally and financially impacted by drinking and driving accidents.
The consequences of a drinking and driving arrest can be devastating, even if there is no accident, Kopp said. An arrest for driving while under the influence can lead to a loss of independence when the driver loses their license and can result in expensive legal fees and fines.
If convicted, a first-time offender faces three days of jail time, $1,500 in fines and loses their license for 30 days.
“The cost of a cab ride is just pennies compared to the cost of a DUI,” Kopp said.
In Kenai, police will work 20 additional hours to help keep drunk drivers off of the roads. Kopp said at this time of year it is particularly important to keep drunk drivers off the roads since long, dark days and slippery roads already make accidents more likely.
Bowman said the campaign’s goal is not to arrest more drunk drivers, but to prevent more people from drinking and driving in the first place.
Bowman also noted that in addition to drunk driving accidents, the number of suicides also rises over the holidays.
“It’s a good time of year for everyone to take care of each other,” he said.
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