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Impaired holiday driving under microscope
by Garrett E. Valenzuela
Dec 14, 2013 | 2141 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo -- Checkpoints and additional officers on patrol will be prevalent throughout the holiday season as the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety began its statewide Joining Forces campaign Friday to target motorists driving under the influence.
Tribune file photo -- Checkpoints and additional officers on patrol will be prevalent throughout the holiday season as the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety began its statewide Joining Forces campaign Friday to target motorists driving under the influence.
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The Nevada Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety began a statewide Joining Forces campaign Friday, and it continues through Jan. 6, The program will target motorists driving under the influence of alcohol and other illicit drugs during the holiday season.

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen said it is typically the time of year for office parties, vacation celebrations and in-home gatherings that increase traffic on the roads and increase the risk of DUI. He said more NHP troopers will be on northern Nevada highways and localized police officers, such as those from the Sparks Police Department and Washoe County Sheriff's Department, will be on community streets, hoping to spot drivers endangering themselves and others.

"During this time of year we see the need for additional awareness and education to re-emphasize that drinking and driving should never happen," Allen said Friday afternoon. "We know that people are going to be out enjoying the Christmas and holiday seasons and often times people are already making plans for various parties and celebrations they plan to attend. We encourage those people to arrange post-celebration plans to get themselves home or aid others in getting home safely."

Nevada's Zero Fatalities program offered tips such as designating sober drivers or reserving a block of hotel rooms prior to leaving for any holiday celebration to avoid any circumstance of driving impaired. One particular concern Allen said is present during holidays in Reno and Sparks is pedestrians on dimly lit streets in the downtown areas, citing Saturday's Santa Pub Crawl in downtown Reno as an example.

"This time of month, we see plenty of people downtown who are walking from establishment to establishment for celebrations, and at those times we often see heavy motor traffic as well," Allen said. "We never want to respond to those calls so people need to be looking diligently at crosswalks and on sidewalks for various hazards.

"Those hazards may also be present while out doing last-minute holiday shopping and people need to be aware of their surroundings and be extra vigilant and cautious."

Allen said officers patrolling city streets and regional highways have been trained to spot impaired motorists by a number of tell-tale signs. Slow reactions, inability to maintain a travel lane and inconsistency in maintaining the speed limit are all factors police look for, but Allen said his nightly shifts during Joining Forces campaigns taught him another method.

"When I was assigned to those shifts, I would be looking to make as many contacts as I can," Allen said. "You have any number of drivers who maybe don't use a turn signal or are speeding and I walk up to the car and go from there. If they have their insurance and license in hand and there is no scent I send them off and tell them 'have a nice evening.'

"It has also worked in just the opposite way in some cases. I would find an expired registration and stop a motorist to speak to them about it and find out they had been drinking. It goes to show you that no one way is most effective and it is just smart to realize that tomorrow is a brand new day and driving under the influence is not worth spending the night in jail."

Allen said a DUI upon conviction comes with many unforeseen costs that do not come written on the $750 ticket (first offense) and cost of removing a vehicle from the impound.

"The numbers tell us that a first offense, if convicted, can average about $10,000," Allen said. "You have various legal fees, court fees, possible community service or time in jail, time off from work and fees for paperwork filled out with the DMV."

Allen said this particular Joining Forces campaign will target impaired driving, as opposed to other campaigns that target seat belt violations, cell phone use and various other regulations. While impaired driving is the target, he urged motorists to take extreme caution as the regional temperature fluctuates and traffic congestion rises.

Officers will be able to only target those motives because of the Joining Forces campaign, which can employ officers during their scheduled off day, freeing them from fielding various ranges of disturbance throughout the city.

"In general, you want to make sure you are very aware of your driving environment," Allen said. "Check the weather and road conditions, always buckle yourself and your children properly and eliminate all distractions to eliminate the risk of an unplanned event.

"I can tell you personally that there is not a single day of the year that we in public safety want to talk about a serious injury or death of a loved one with a family. For me, to have to deliver that news during the holidays is even more difficult so I strongly urge people to be safe on the roads."
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