Protecting lives

The California Highway Patrol got a head start on the busy July 4th weekend, by checking the condition of drivers on Highway 41 last week.

In an effort to get people driving under the influence of drugs and or alcohol off the highways, the Oakhurst CHP office conducted a DUI/Driver License Checkpoint Saturday, June 27, on Highway 41 in Coarsegold, stopping six out of every 10 of the 1,000 vehicles that passed through the checkpoint.

Out of the 600 vehicles stopped, nine drivers were given a field sobriety test, with one person being arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. The other eight were released after it was determined they were not driving under the influence.

A driver with a blood alcohol level of .08% is automatically considered to be impaired, although a person can be considered driving under the influence with a .07 at the judgment of the officer.

Many drivers who drink and drive aren’t aware of the consequences of getting behind a wheel while intoxicated or on heavy medication. Drivers caught driving impaired can expect jail, license suspension, and insurance increases, as well as fines, fees, DUI classes, and other expenses can run $7,000 to $10,000.

A blue Saturn Vue was pulled off the road because the driver did not posses a driver’s license. When it was learned the driver’s passenger also could not produce a driver’s license, the driver had her car keys taken away, was cited, and given the opportunity to call friends to come get her and her vehicle. An additional four citations were issued for driver’s who either did not have a license, or were driving on a suspended license. No vehicles were impounded.

The checkpoint, supervised by Sgt. Matt Radke, was set up from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., in the southbound lane of Highway 41 in Coarsegold. Motorists approaching the checkpoint saw informational signs advising them that a checkpoint was ahead.

“We are randomly screening vehicles while keeping the traffic moving the best we can,” Radke said. “When traffic is heavy, we don’t stop every vehicle, but when the traffic slows down, we check everyone.”

Although some drivers complain about the short delay, Radke said many people thank the officers for their efforts to get impaired drivers off the highway.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, communities throughout America support increased criminal justice efforts to stop this illegal and life threatening offense. Studies show that the majority of Americans consider impaired driving one of our nation’s most important social issues, ahead of healthcare, poverty/hunger, and education.

Nationally, impaired driving kills more than 16,000 people and injures nearly 305,000 others every year. Every 32 minutes, someone in America dies in an impaired driving crash. In California, between 2008, and 2012, there were nearly 15,000 auto accident fatalities, with about 30% of them being alcohol related.

“Our goal is to ensure the safety of motorists with occasional checkpoints designed to augment patrol operations,” Radke said. “The deterrent effect of these checkpoints has been proven to reduce the number of persons killed and injured in alcohol or drug involved crashes. Checkpoints are an effective way to achieve our goal and send a clear message that if a person decides to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, there is a good chance they will be caught.”

The driver’s ability to speak without slurring their words was quickly established with a couple routine questions by officers, and drivers were asked to show their driver’s license.

According to Radke, the CHP historically has not always included the inspection of driver licenses at sobriety checkpoints. However, the Department of Motor Vehicles conducted research that indicated 33% of drivers with suspended or revoked licenses have a criminal record and are far more likely than licensed drivers to be involved in traffic collisions with fatalities and injuries.

“As such, we now include the inspection of driver licenses at sobriety checkpoints to ensure the highest level of traffic safety,” Radke said.

In addition to Radke, six additional CHP officers participated in the operation.

Funding for the checkpoint is provided to California Highway Patrol by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reminding everyone to continue to work together to bring an end to these tragedies.

Be safe during the July 4th weekend

With the busy Independence Day weekend upon us, Radke reminds motorists not to drink and drive.

“Plan ahead ... enjoy the weekend, but if you are going to drink, have a designated driver,” Radke said. “Don’t be the person to become, or cause a statistic.”

AAA Northern California predicts the weekend will bring out the highest number of travelers since 2010, as more than 4.8 million Californians are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home for the first summer vacation of the year.

“Overall, Californians are traveling in record numbers, driven by a stronger economy and rising income,” says Cynthia Harris, AAA Northern California spokesperson. “And despite recent spikes in fuel prices, this upcoming three-day weekend provides a welcomed pause for those planning a holiday road trip.”

Nationally, AAA forecasts more than 41 million people will travel 50 miles or more during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, representing a 0.7% increase compared to last year.

Data reveals that from 2008 to 2012, 765 people died in Fourth of July drunken-driving accidents in California.

If you see anyone who appears to be drinking under the influence of alcohol of drugs, call 911.

AAA Tipsy Tow Program

As part of AAA’s on-going commitment to keeping the roads safe on holidays, AAA’s Tipsy Tow Program will offer a free tow for drinking drivers from 6 p.m. on July 4, to 6 a.m., July 5. Members and non-members alike can call (800) 222-4357 (AAA-HELP) for a free tow of up to 10 miles.

“Just tell the AAA operator, ‘I need a Tipsy Tow,’ and a truck will be on its way,” said Harris. “Service is restricted to a one-way ride for the driver and his or her vehicle to the driver’s home.”