PACIFIC COUNTY - Drivers headed out on Pacific County roads after a few glasses of high-octane eggnog might want to think twice this holiday season. Law enforcement will be on high alert for drunken drivers during what they call Emphasis Patrols.
"The goal is to make 1,000 additional contacts," said Rod Chenoweth, coordinator of Pacific County's Traffic Safety Task Force. "That doesn't mean members of law enforcement will issue 1,000 extra citations, but they will be making that many more stops."
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission pays local officers overtime to make up for the additional man-hours needed to make contact with motorists, something that acting Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright said is a bargain for the community.
"It is a good thing for everybody," said Sgt. Wright. "The roads are a safer place, and the guys make some extra money during the holidays."
The Emphasis Patrols started Nov. 5 and will continue through Jan. 5, during which time LBPD officers will work an additional 17 hours each.
"What it means is that there will be extra officers on the roads during peak trouble times," he said. "Evenings and weekends mainly, but especially during Christmas and New Year's Eve."
During these extra hours, officers will be looking to make contact with drivers who might be impaired. This means that they will be looking for any infraction to stop a driver who might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Whether it is a burned out tail light, expired tags or a driver who appears to be out of control, officers will want to talk.
"We are looking for all impaired drivers," said Chenoweth. "Not just drivers impaired by alcohol, but prescription drugs and over-the-counter cold medications can impair drivers as well. We will also be looking for people who are not wearing their seat belts.
According to data supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-related traffic deaths have been on the increase nationally, and the drinking-driver-involved (DDI) death rate has increased in Washington as well. In 2002 the DDI rate was .48 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up slightly from the 2001 rate of .46.
And the consequences are severe. Aside from the mandatory one- to 365-day jail time and the minimum $350 in court costs, a person convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants will lose their license for at least 90 days. An open booze container and failure to wear a safety belt will cost an additional $101 each.
Under 21? While you are risking a possible Minor in Possession ticket for even being in contact with alcohol, you only have to have a blood alcohol content of more than .02 while behind the wheel to get hit with a DUI.