Beginning Friday night, the V.I. Police Department will crack down on people driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription drugs or controlled substances, the department announced at a Friday morning press conference.
"Today is Jump Up," police Public Information Officer Melody Rames said at Friday’s press conference. "Tonight there will be traffic checkpoints for people leaving Christiansted."
The conference was called to discuss the department’s holiday season crackdown on drunken driving, "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over." The department and the territory’s Office of Highway Safety collaborate to drive home the message that driving under the influence isn’t just illegal, it’s dangerous and can mar a happy time of year with tragedy.
The police will be out on the roads in force, holding traffic checkpoints to make sure no one is driving impaired. According to Sgt. Roselyn Jarvis, traffic commander for the St. Thomas/St. John District, the force isn’t out trying to build up statistics by making a lot of arrests. Police don’t necessarily don’t want to write tickets, she said, but they want to cut down on accidents.
"Safety is our main concern," she said. "We’re trying to get impaired drivers off the road."
The number of arrests for drunken driving have increased in the territory in the last fiscal year, said Sgt. Joseph Platt, traffic commander for the St. Croix District, but the number of accidents has decreased. In the 2011 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, there were 223 arrests for driving under the influence in the territory, with 133 of them on St. Croix, compared to 167 in the 2010 fiscal year. But the number of crashes involving impaired drivers, while up to 75 from 67 the previous year, was not as significant a jump.
And Platt pointed out that for the second year in a row, there were no traffic fatalities related to drunken driving, although there were 43 DUI-related injuries in the 2011 fiscal year, up from 37 the previous year.
The message is a simple one, Platt said, one that everyone knows but needs to be reminded of. If you drink, don’t drive.
"It’s OK to have a drink," he said. "But if you drink, call a designated driver. Call a friend, call family."
There are lots of consequences, what Platt called "unwanted gifts," waiting for people who drive while impaired. They include attorney fees, court costs, fines, time lost from work and higher insurance costs.
Along with the Christmas holidays, which offer plenty of festivities where alcohol is served, December also brings the start of the Crucian Christmas Festival. Platt said the police department’s Sober Ride program, in which police offer van rides home from the festival village, will be in action again this year.
Meridith Nielsen, director of the Office of Highway Safety, added that officials need support from alcohol servers to curb the "one more for the road" concept.
"When you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough," he said. "Bartenders need to say, ‘No, you can’t have any more.’"