Holiday drinking and driving don't mix

The holiday season is in full swing. Because alcohol and holiday parties often go hand-in-hand, the Williams Police Department is watching who’s getting behind the wheel.

"If we stop you and you’re driving under the influence (DUI) — you’re going to jail," said Frank Manson, Williams police chief. "There is a tendency to have more parties and more social gatherings during the holidays, and alcohol generally plays a significant part in all of that."

Manson, who has 25 years of experience in law enforcement said he has specialized in collisions since 1977.

"There have been many holidays that I’ve had to tell a family member a loved one has been killed because of alcohol and driving," he said.

To keep the number of drinking and driving incidents low, Manson said all of Williams’ finest will be patrolling the streets on New Year’s Eve.Williams Police officer Mike Russell demonstrates techniques used to check if a person has been drinking and driving.

"We’re going to be working with the Gang Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GITEM), Arizona Department of Public Service and the Sheriff’s Department to keep residents safe," he said.

Manson said the WPD will be proactively looking for drunk drivers.

He said there are three types of DUI — regular, extreme and aggravated.

"First offense DUI with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .10 is a $250 fine, 10 days in jail, mandatory alcohol screening and 90-day license suspension," Manson said. "First offense for extreme DUI, which is a BAC of .18 or more, has a fine of $250 and a $250 assessment fee. Then the person will be ordered to serve 30 days in jail."

The judge can suspend all but 10 days of jail time and will probably order the installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device on the convicted person’s car, Manson said. Plus the person can also look forward to a 90-day license suspension.

The alcohol ignition interlock device requires drivers to blow into a alcohol breathalyzer before the vehicle will start.

The second DUI will result in $500 in fines, 90 days in jail, the installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device and loss of driving privileges for one year. For the second extreme DUI, the result is 120 days in jail, $750 in fines, driver’s license revoked for one year and the installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device.

Any three offenses within a 60-month period results in aggravated DUI.

"That’s a class four felony," Manson said. "That carries with it a minimum of four months in the Department of Corrections — prison."

He added fines and the installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device will also accompany the prison time.

The extreme DUI law, Loper’s law, was passed in December of 1998 after a Phoenix area football coach and teacher was killed by a severely drunk driver. The law requires mandatory sentencing for drunk drivers with blood alcohol levels over .18.

In Arizona during 1999, approximately 2.8 persons were killed each day in automobile accidents.

"Traffic crashes are not accidents," Manson said. "But avoidable events caused by a single variable or chain of variables.

"We are dedicated to reducing traffic injuries and fatalities by addressing the factors that cause them."

The number of alcohol-related crashes in 1999 resulted in 267 deaths. That is one less than 1998. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) statistics show that 43.3 percent of the 980 total traffic deaths in Arizona during 1998 were alcohol related. That’s 423 people who would still be alive if drivers hadn’t gotten behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.

National figures show 41,611 fatalities involving motor vehicles occurred on roads during 1999. Of these, 15,786 or 38 percent involved alcohol.

Young drivers caught driving under the influence lose more than fine money, Manson said.

"If you get caught drinking and driving and you’re a minor, the courts can suspend your driving privileges until you’re 18 to 21," he said. "Your first offense may only be a fine of $250, but you could pay thousands more in increased premium cost over the next couple of years."

It’s also common for insurance companies to not carry people who have DUI’s on their records.

Manson said the police department is not here to interrupt people’s get togethers but rather to keep people safe.

"Enjoy the holidays but be responsible for your behavior particularly if you’re going to be drinking," he said. "A DUI or domestic violence incident affect much more than your pocket book. It will affect your future and affect a loved one you killed because you decided to try and drive home."

To help people who have had too much to drink get home during the holidays, Smitty’s Taxi, in conjunction with Teresa Stevens, owner of the World Famous Sultana and the Canyon Club will be providing rides free of charge.

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