Motorists running last minute holiday errands may find an increased police presence on the roads over the next few days. Alaska State Troopers and local police are stepping up their efforts to keep impaired revelers out of their cars and off the roads this season.
Megan Peters, trooper public information officer, said troopers will work overtime and focus their efforts on keeping people safe on the highways during the holidays. With a certain number of overtime hours allotted to them each month, troopers typically use them to look for seat belt or alcohol enforcement, particularly during holidays and special events, such as the state fair.
"We all know people like to go out and have holiday parties," Peters said. "There are going to be a number of people on the roads, and we want to make sure they're safe."
Troopers will step up their patrol on backroads, as well as highways, especially around New Year's, she said. Most DUI stops start with a basic violation. Things like a burned-out headlight, not using your turn signal and driving under or over the posted speed limit will catch a trooper's eye and result in a stop.
While most DUI and REDDI (Report Every Drunk Driver Immediately) reports happen over the weekend, starting Thursday and extending until Sunday, impaired drivers can be on the road any time. Peters said it's not uncommon for a trooper to pull someone over in the morning who is impaired from drinking they did the night before or someone who is affected by some type of medication.
"All we can do is encourage people not to do it," Peters said, adding a person's blood alcohol level doesn't have to be above the state limit of .08 for them to be impaired. "It's best to make sure you get where you want to go alive."
Kenai Police Sgt. Randy Kornfield said the department will utilize overtime hours made available from a grant through the Alaska Highway Safety Office to focus on seat belt and DUI enforcement within city limits. Anyone who suspects a motorist may be under the influence should be able to give a physical description of the vehicle and the person who's driving it, as well as an accurate account of the driver's actions. If possible remain in visual contact with the violator until an officer gets in a position to take over, otherwise report his or her last known location.
"There are more opportunities for people to attend parties in a short period of time," Kornfield said, adding that because of the massive amounts of information available to the public people are more aware of impaired drivers around the holidays. "The potential for the increase (in DUIs) is prevalent because of holiday parties, family get-togethers and other various social events and stresses."
In addition to increased enforcement on the highways, Peters said troopers took to the airwaves to educate the public. For the past three years, the troopers have shown a series of public service announcements featuring a barbershop quartet parodying popular Christmas carols such as "Up on the Housetop" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in order to persuade the person who's had one too many to call a cab rather than get behind the wheel. Peters said this is something troopers do for a variety of holidays, including Halloween, the Super Bowl and Labor Day.
"We target people who have two or three and are slightly buzzed. Those are the people who think they're fine," Peters said, adding trooper statistics show that most of the DUIs around the holiday come from young white men ages 21 to 30.
"Our statistics show those are the ones our message isn't getting through to," she said.
Peters said it would be difficult to tell what effect the commercials have had on the number of DUI reports across the state until troopers are able to see the trends, but she's always open to feedback. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. The commercials also are available on the Internet at www.dps.state.ak.us/pio/releases/resources/Video/DUI%20Ads/.
"We encourage feedback," she said. "We can't do it better if no one helps us."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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