More eyes on drivers

Authorities on extra lookout for DUIs during holidays

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This is one instance not to give yourself too much credit.

After knocking back a few at a holiday party, getting behind the wheel could be tempting.

In case your instincts steer you that direction, patrol cars will be waiting.

State and local law enforcement are beefing up patrols as usual this time of year, with extra cars and officers out roving to snap up DUIs.

"We always do employ extra patrol during the holiday season, just because we know there's more revelers," said Sgt. Christie Wood with the Coeur d'Alene Police. "There are a lot of people coming in, people visiting from out of town, a lot more Christmas parties and New Year parties. It makes sense there are a lot more people drinking and a lot more people on the road."

That means a busy holiday season for patrol officers.

The Coeur d'Alene Police will be sending out emphasis patrols to high traffic and DUI areas, Wood said.

"We're trying to cover the whole city," she said. "I can guarantee it (extra patrols) will be going real soon."

The hardest offenders to detect are those just over the drinking limit, she said.

"But they're also the most dangerous, because they do think they're fine," she said. "They're not fine. They're impaired. Their reaction time is slow, and they cause accidents."

In case that isn't enough deterrent, she reminded that DUIs can be costly.

"The minimum cost for a first-time DUI, to defend yourself and associated fines is $3,000," she said. "And it can get more excessive than that."

In Coeur d'Alene, there were 35 DUIs last November, and 44 last December.

Idaho State Police will also be running specialized DUI patrols all through the holiday season, in addition to the usual patrol cars, said patrol Lt. Chris Schenck.

"Everybody available will be looking for impaired drivers," Schenck said.

ISP will be focusing on the interstate and highways, he said, looking for anything from swerving drivers to missed stop signs.

"Our primary job is driver safety," he said.

It's not just alcohol officers keep an eye out for, he added, but use of illicit and prescription drugs, too.

"For some people the holiday season is depressing for them. And with the economy being down, it brings depression out," he said. "A lot of times, pain killers do come in, whether alcohol or otherwise."

The Kootenai County Sheriff's Department will have extra vehicles scouring for impaired drivers, too, said Maj. Ben Wolfinger.

They will be patrolling throughout Kootenai County, he said.

"Impaired driving happens everywhere," he said.

The penalty for a DUI depends on a judge's sentencing, Wood said, and whether it's a first offense.

Schenck said most accidents don't result from "sloshed, completely drunk people," but drivers who are just over or just under the drinking limit.

"They think they're driving better than they are on icy roads or slushy roads," he said. "That's when they slip off the road or bypass a stoplight or aren't paying attention to vehicles around them."

The adult legal drinking limit is a blood alcohol level of .08 percent. It's impossible to say how many drinks that is, Schenck said.

"It's very different from person to person. Even if people are the same size, their tolerance might be different," he said.

Wood said there are plenty of alternatives to drinking and driving, from planning ahead with a designated driver to calling a taxi.

"If you can afford to go out and have a good time at our local establishments, you can afford a taxi service," she said. "Look at the tragedies of other holiday seasons. What a way to mar the holiday season, to have a loss of life."

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