Woodward, Okla. —
Officials with the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office (OHSO) say that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol's crackdown on impaired driving over the New Year's holiday appears to be effective.
"Over the New Year's Eve holiday, it seems like our activity drops off because people know we're out in force and paying attention and looking for impaired drivers," said Trooper Steve Nightengale, an OHSO law enforcement liaison.
This year will be no exception as OHP "will have all available personnel out working to watch for impaired drivers," Nightengale said.
In addition, he said the OHP will likely have sobriety check points set up in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas.
"I don't know of any checkpoints out in the part of the country, but just because we don't have any sobriety check points, doesn't mean that we won't be putting an emphasis on stopping impaired driving," Nightengale said.
In addition to the OHP troopers out on patrol, Nightengale said that all of the other local law enforcement departments throughout the 17-county area that he covers "have said they will either have extra officers out or the officers that are regularly out will put a special emphasis on looking for impaired drivers."
All these watchful law enforcement officers seem to be a deterrent for many people from taking the risk of drinking and driving, he said.
"Most people do take the proper measures, like staying where they're at or getting a designated driver," Nightengale said.
He said that special holiday programs, like the Tipsy Tow program that is offered by AAA in the metro areas, and the accessibility of taxicab companies also helps more people to avoid drinking and driving over the New Year's holiday.
However, there are still some people who fail to take the proper safety precautions and put themselves and others in harm's way by deciding to drive drunk.
An OHSO fact sheet states that over the 2012 New Year holiday period from Dec. 30, 2011 to Jan. 2, 2012, 6 people were killed in 6 fatal crashes across the state of Oklahoma. One of the fatalities occurred in an alcohol-related crash.
The fact sheet also notes that out of 129 injury accidents during the same period, 22 involved alcohol, which is about 17 percent.
While believing that "the loss of life" is the worst consequence of drunk driving, Nightengale said that impaired driving also comes with other costs.
"A DUI arrest and conviction can cost over $15,000 in fines and court costs and other stuff the court may require them to do," he said. "That includes attorney fees, getting your car towed, alcohol assessments, and possibly an interlock device on your car, for which there is a cost to get installed and you have to pay so much a month for as long as you have it. The interlock device is something you have to blow on to get your car started and if it detects any alcohol on your breath, then it will keep your car from starting for an hour."
But you don't even have to be the one driving drunk to possibly face some stiff financial and legal penalties.
"If you have a party, where you have people over for a get together and you're serving alcohol, you can be held civilly liable if you let someone leave the party who's been drinking and they have a wreck and kill or hurt someone," Nightengale said. "So if you have a party, you need to make arrangements for your guests to make sure they get home safely or can spend the night."
Even if you haven't been imbibing, the trooper said it might be a good idea to stay in on New Year's Eve.
"It happens a lot in collisions we see, in the accidents we work with drunk drivers, the driver is not injured too much, but maybe a passenger in their vehicle or maybe someone they hit is killed or seriously injured," Nightengale said.
And for the drunk driver who survived, "they will have to carry the responsibility for that other person's injury or death with them for the rest of their lives," he said.
If you are out this holiday weekend, or any time, and see an impaired driver, Nightengale said it is important to notify the authorities as quickly as possible.
"If anyone sees an impaired driver, then they should contact their local law enforcement, and provide as full as a description of the vehicle as possible. Or they can call *55 to talk to the Highway Patrol dispatchers and if we have a trooper in the area, we will get him to check the vehicle out. Otherwise if we don't have a trooper nearby, we will call the nearest local law enforcement and let them know the vehicle may be coming into their town," Nightengale said.
The trooper said he hopes that celebrants this New Year's holiday will continue to take the proper safety measures, because the OHP wants everyone to be able to enjoy a safe, happy and accident-free holiday.
"It ruins a holiday when a trooper comes, knocks on your door and tells you a loved one was killed in a car wreck," Nightengale said.