Drunken party-goers who decide to take a chance on the roads this holiday weekend will be dealing with a revved up law enforcement team.
Peninsula police departments and E-detachment Alaska State Troopers plan to fill the streets with officers on the hunt for drunken drivers.
“Officers will be out actively patrolling, ensuring that drivers are sober, and doing bar checks to ensure that people are drinking responsibly and having designated drivers,” said Gus Sandahl, investigation sergeant of the Kenai Police Department.
The highest risk group for drunken driving in Alaska is truck driving, 18- to 35-year-old males. But the police and troopers are working overtime over the holiday weekend this year to make sure that holiday festivities don’t end in serious injury, death, and sorrow for anybody.
The three enforcement agencies are scheduling officers to work an extra 822 hours over the holiday season to target drunk drivers with Soldotna police working 32 extra hours, Kenai police115 extra hours and E-detachment troopers 675 extra hours.
The Alaska Highway Safety Office is providing special funding to cover overtime for the officers. As part of the nationwide “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign, the Soldotna department will receive $1,600, the Kenai department $6,900 and E-detachment troopers $43,875 for the extra patrol hours.
The increased DUI patrols on the Peninsula could help lower Alaska’s high percentage of alcohol-related fatalities. Alaska ranks among the top 10 when it comes to collision fatalities involving alcohol, with 41 percent of collision fatalities involving alcohol compared to 39 percent nationwide.
The Soldotna Police Department expects DUI traffic to be heavy in Soldotna the entire weekend. Quelland said be-cause the holiday falls on a Sunday this year, people will likely celebrate the new year on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“The bars are promoting three days of New Year’s Eve,” said Quelland. “There will be more DUI’s than most New Year’s Eves because it’s the whole weekend.”
And while a cab ride home from Hooligan’s may seem expensive to some, it’s a whole lot cheaper than being caught driving under the influence of alcohol. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the total cost of a first-offense DUI could pay for a cab ride almost halfway across the world. A $20 cab ride from Soldotna to Kenai is a bargain compared to the $22,740 in expenses one could face for driving drunk.
As for the people who ignore the warnings, it’s a gamble they’re willing to take, said Quelland.
“They believe they can make it home, they believe it’s only a short distance,” he said. “Very few people aren’t aware that they made a bad decision. Very few are surprised that they’re over the limit.”
The amount of people celebrating in the bars leads to more than intoxicated drivers.
“The bars are full on general weekends,” said Quelland. “When there are twice as many or three times as many people going out to celebrate, you have overcrowding and more disturbance calls.”
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