Summer months are deadliest for DWI incidents

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By Carol A. Clark

State, local and national law enforcement officials are ganging up on intoxicated drivers again this season.

Last year’s traffic crashes in New Mexico claimed the lives of 118 people during the months of June, July, August and September – 56 of which were alcohol-related, according to the state transportation department.

Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster discussed the local DWI situation during an interview late Tuesday. “The Los Alamos Police Department has conducted three DWI checkpoints and six saturation patrols this summer. Although these exercises have not yielded any drunk drivers in our county, they do serve as a very effective deterent tool,” Foster said. “We make a point to set up our operations in highly visable areas and put out a lot of publicity to stop DWI before it happens.”

State officials and tribal leaders met this week  to advance a dialogue on how to work together to reduce alcohol-involved fatalities on tribal land. Several initiatives were discussed during the NMDOT’s Traffic Safety Summit held at Isleta Casino and Resort.

“The NMDOT is committed to stopping these tragedies through support of this intense enforcement effort,” Transportation Secretary Gary Girón said in a news release Tuesday afternoon.

In late 2006, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced a number ofl initiatives designed to reduce DWI on tribal lands in New Mexico. They included the establishment of the governor’s state tribal DWI task force, which has been addressing issues related to data sharing among native and non-native law enforcement agencies, public awareness, enforcement and rehabilitation.

“Law enforcement and public awareness are key linchpins to successfully battling DWI in New Mexico,” DWI Czar O’Connor said in a news release. “Dedicated funding for increased law enforcement efforts, coupled with the NMDOT’s anti-DWI billboard campaign featuring well-known Native Americans is having a positive effect.”

Nationally, Native Americans experience higher rates of alcohol related fatalities than other ethnic groups, according to the release.

Also at the Traffic Safety Summit, state and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) official Brian McLaughlin announced the upcoming national impaired driving crackdown effort, “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest,” which runs from Friday through Sept. 7.

The national effort, the “exclamation point” on New Mexico’s “100 Days and Nights of Summer,” includes statewide sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, especially during high-risk nighttime hours.

The  “100 Days and Nights” campaigns started in 2007 and have played a key role in New Mexico’s recent reductions in the human toll of drunken driving.

“Summer months in New Mexico are usually the deadliest,” said New Mexico State Police Chief Faron Segota. “Officers have made 942 DWI arrests, conducted 88 checkpoints and 62 saturation patrols in support of the 100 Days and Nights of Summer safety campaign, and we will continue this push throughout the summer by aggressively arresting impaired drivers during this national crackdown.”

The national “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.” crackdown is led by NHTSA and combines high visibility enforcement with heightened public awareness through advertising and publicity.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.