Two mixed drinks or four beers can drive blood alcohol above the legal limit and the V.I. Police Department will be more vigilant than usual to arrest drunk drivers during the annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over program this month, the VIPD announced Wednesday.
The 2016 “crackdown” will run from Aug. 19 to Sept. 5, according to Lt. Joseph Platt, commander of St. Croix’s VIPD traffic investigations. He pointed out that the campaign coincides with the Labor Day holiday, one of the deadliest times of the year for drunk driving fatalities nationwide.
As in past years, the police will set up checkpoints on highly traveled roads and saturated patrols will monitor motorists. Platt said officers also will be briefed to watch for signs of alcohol and drunk drivers when they investigate any motor vehicle accident.
“If you want to go out for a drink, please get a designated driver – call someone – let the bartender know you need a ride,” he recommended.
Platt acknowledged there is a manpower shortage at Highway Safety but said a federal grant helps pay overtime and that using a van with a holding cell and intoxameter/ breathalyzer, purchased four years ago, cuts down on overtime hours.
A graduating class and a new class of cadets will soon increase the ranks of the police force, he added.
According to statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, one person is killed in a drunk driving accident every 53 minutes in the United States and around 10,000 Americans have died each year.
During the 2014 Labor Day weekend, nearly half of the 401 fatalities involved drivers whose blood alcohol content was over the .08 limit and more than a quarter of those motorists were driving at almost twice the illegal limit.
The 2014 national statistics also reported the one in every five children killed in automobile crashes were passengers in cars driven by drunk drivers and more than half of the time it was the child’s own driver who was drunk.
In the Virgin Islands, the numbers have improved substantially. In 2011 there were 107 DUI crashes, 223 arrests, 51 injuries, but no fatalities. In 2015, there were 72 crashes, 82 arrests, 16 injured and one fatality.
Platt reported that, so far this year, there have been two fatalities and 25 arrests due to driving under the influence. A possible third fatality has not been determined by the VIPD.
“Education and enforcement efforts” have helped reduce the number of accidents in the territory, Platt said.