Law enforcement 4th of July crack-down: Impaired drivers and seat belt violations

Photo by Earl Estrera

ST. GEORGE – Most Americans may not realize it, but the Fourth of July is one of the deadliest holidays of the year due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes.

That’s why this Fourth of July the Mohave County Sheriff, in conjunction with other participating agencies of the Western Arizona DUI Task Force, is stepping up enforcement efforts as part of the ongoing “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” enforcement crackdown to catch and arrest impaired drivers who put themselves and others at risk.

Whether or not one is in Arizona or local to Southern Utah, the statistics and exhortations provided by the Mohave County Sheriff are instructive.

“The Fourth of July is one of the deadliest holidays due to an increase in impaired-driving fatalities,” Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan said.  “Too many people die behind the wheel each year due to those who choose to drive after drinking, so our officers will be out in full force this Fourth of July showing zero tolerance for impaired drivers.”

Impaired-driving crashes killed more than 10,000 people in 2010, accounting for 31 percent of all traffic-related fatalities in the United States.  That’s an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 51 minutes.

But the percentage of fatalities from impaired driving spike around the Fourth of July. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 392 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes during the Fourth of July holiday in 2010 (6 p.m. July 2- 5:59 a.m. July 6).  Of those fatalities, 39 percent were in crashes that involved at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher.

To save lives on roadways this Fourth of July, law enforcement all over Arizona will be cracking down on impaired driving through increased sobriety checkpoints, roving and saturation patrols, and other enforcement methods.

Utah Highway Patrol administration is expected to disseminate information on its enforcement plan for safety nearer to the Fourth.  But, in the meantime, UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson said, “for sure we will be increasing the number of patrol shifts, looking for impaired drivers.” He said the UHP doesn’t do DUI checkpoints anymore but it will assist other agencies.

“Also important,” Johnson said, “we will be looking looking for seat belts, for people to be properly restrained.” He said the UHP will issue warnings and citations for those in violation of the seat belt laws.

Often Fourth of July celebrations start during the day, but last well into the night – making the dangers from impaired drivers even higher at night.

“The amount of alcohol that one can consume during a day-long party or celebration can drastically impair the motor skills needed to drive safely,” said MCSO DUI Task Force Coordinator Sgt. Don Bischoff. “Add the fact that many others may be out driving impaired, and that visual skills also decrease at night, and you have a recipe for disaster.”

Impaired driving fatalities spike during nighttime hours. The proportion of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2010 was almost five times higher at night (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) than during the day for the 2010 Fourth of July holiday period. In fact, more than 80 percent of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities took place at nighttime.

“What is even more tragic about the statistics is we see a high number of fatalities among 18- to 34-year-olds,” Bischoff said. “Forty-six percent of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities during the 2010 Fourth of July holiday period were within this age group. These are people who have their whole life ahead of them, but in one instant, one act of irresponsibility, they can lose it all. There is simply too much at stake to ever drive impaired.”

Sheahan said that there are numerous consequences as a result of being caught driving impaired, such as the risk of killing or harming others, jail time, insurance hikes and potential loss of driver’s license, just to name a few.

“Those who try to drink and drive this Fourth of July should be forewarned. We will be out in force looking for impaired drivers, and we will catch and arrest you.  No warnings. No excuses. If you drive impaired, you will be arrested,” Sheahan said.

The Western Arizona DUI Task Force recommends these simple tips for a safe Fourth of July:

– Plan a safe way home before the fun begins;
– Before drinking, designate a sober driver;
– If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation;
– If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don’t hesitate to call 911.
– And remember, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.

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