It's one of seventeen DUI task forces in the state, and this year, the Tri-City DUI Task Force is more determined than ever to keep impaired drivers off the road. Participating law enforcement agencies from Yavapai County include:
- The Prescott Police Department
- The Prescott Valley Police Department
- The Chino Valley Police Department
- The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office
- The Yavapai College Police Department
- The Yavapaai Prescott Tribal Police Department
- The Cottonwood Police Department
- The Clarkdale Police Department
- The Sedona Police Department
- The Arizona Department of Public Safety
This year, the Task Force will be increasing their enforcement activities which are "...related to detecting and arresting impaired drivers over this holiday season," explained Sgt. Tim Fletcher, Traffic Section Supervisor for the Prescott Police Department, at a recent press conference, held on the Yavapai County Courthouse Stairs.
Fletcher continued, "The purpose of this press conference is to spread the message that impaired driving, whether by alcohol or drugs is extremely dangerous, it is a crime and it will not be tolerated in our communities... As always we are trying to gain voluntary compliance by the motoring public. If you are intending to celebrate this holiday by drinking alcoholic beverages, please plan ahead. We ask people to utilize a designated driver. Call a sober friend or call a cab."
Michael P. Hegarty, Deputy Director of the Arizona Department of Highway Safety, was also at this press conference, and started out by thanking the officers that put in a lot of hard work to make roadways safer. He reminded those listening that these officers frequently sacrifice family time during the holidays so that others can enjoy themselves.
"It is dangerous out there on our roadways, unfortunately," Hegarty said. "Last year there were 1288 people killed on Arizona's roadways. Of that, 585 of those fatalities involved alcohol, and 409 of those people were killed by drunk drivers, people with a BAC limit of .08 or higher which is the legal limit for impairment. So, there's a lot of people out there being killed by drunk drivers... Every impaired driver they [the Task Force] take off the roadways is one potential killer they're out there taking off the streets and making it safer for all of us."
Hegarty pointed out that besides the risk to lives, DUI arrests are very expensive for the perpetrator. With new laws in force as of September 19, 2007, this deadly offense just got more costly. "Out there the average family spends about $1400 on gifts for family and friends. If you get a first time DUI of .08 or above, it will cost you $2800 in fines and court fees and jail time. That's two years worth of gifts that you can give your families and friends that will be wasted in one night if you decide to go out there and drive impaired. So, if jail isn't enough, if the possibility of killing somebody isn't a hindrance, maybe the wallet is."
For example, all First Offense DUIs have a mandatory requirement for an Ignition Interlock system to be placed on the vehicle for 12-18 months, at cost of $80 per month. Jail time has also been increased. And that's just a beginning; click here to read a chart of the costs associated with a DUI .
According to Prescott Police Chief Randy Oates, the Prescott DUI arrests have increased this year. This poses a dilemma, as Oates explains, "I've looked at the statistics, just within the City of Prescott, and our DUI arrests are up 20% in Prescott to date. We've arrested more than 300 drivers under the influence in the city of Prescott so far this year. That's difficult to be happy about that. On one side I want to be happy that I think we're doing a better job at detecting drunk drivers and bringing them to justice, because we've made that increase in the arrests. On the other side of the coin it means there are how many drivers out there we are still not detecting and bringing to justice. It seems like the harder we work and the more we focus, the more arrests we make."
Oates ended the press conference with a plea and a promise, "And we're hoping that our message gets out there, and we learn not to drink and drive before they have to learn the lesson the hard way, with jail time and fines or potentially the loss of someone's life. So, I'll say this on behalf of every participating agency in the Tri-City DUI Task Force, if you choose to drink and drive, we'll provide the chaser."
When Is a Driver Considered To Be Impaired?
Fletcher explained, "A person is DUI if they have any drug or its metabolite in their system as defined in Title 13.The person can also be impaired by drugs even if they take prescription medications that impair their ability to operate a motor vehicle. So, the definition we use as a Drug Recognition Expert: a drug is anything, when taken into the human body, that can impair the person's ability to operate a motor vehicle. We have Drug Recognition Experts that put people through a 12-step process that is standardized and systematic and they are able to tell with a great deal of certainty if that person's impaired and by what drug or drug categories."
If You Spot What Looks Like a Drunk Driver
When asked what to do if a civilian spots a driver who appears to be impaired, Fletcher replied, "The best thing to do is to call the police department, use 911, and tell them where you're at. And, if possible, try to stay on the phone, give the best description of that vehicle that you possibly can, including the license plate number, and the vehicle's color and description, and a direction of travel. If you can stay a safe distance behind that vehicle, and follow them as this person makes turns or whatever, that's fine to do, but if this person's driving is so erratic that it's unsafe for you to try to stay up with them, just stay back, let the vehicle go and hopefully we'll be able to locate them."
"At no time should anybody ever pass anyone that they believe is an impaired driver," Fletcher declared. "You always want to face danger, so if somebody's driving, stay behind them, and let them go, and try to get hold of the police."
Fletcher said that if someone calls in a drunk driver, the person reporting the incident may be called as a witness. "However, if they wish to remain anonymous, they can certainly do so," he said. "But, a lot of times what we need to know is what that vehicle was doing in motion that alerted this person to the driving behavior, and sometimes if we get there, after the person is out of the vehicle, let's say it was involved in a traffic crash, and the person's already out of that vehicle prior to us getting there, we need a good witness that can place that person behind the wheel."