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Increased DUI patrols coming to Island County next week

Another emphasis patrol to crack down on drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs will begin next week, conducted by the Island County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol.

Extra patrols, part of a “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed” campaign, will be on county roads from Friday, Aug. 13 through Monday, Sept. 7, said Shelly Baldwin of the Washington Transportation Safety Commission.

Impaired driving is the leading cause of traffic deaths in the state. Last year, it contributed to the deaths of nearly half of the 522 people who died on Washington’s roadways, Baldwin said.

The 233 impaired driver-involved deaths in 2008 represent a decrease of 40 fatalities compared to the previous five-year average, however, thanks in part to increased public awareness and more extensive training of law enforcement officers, she said.

Nationally, there were almost 13,000 people killed by impaired drivers during 2007, an average of one person every 40 minutes in the United States.

In Washington, emphasis has been placed on a network of specially trained officers able to identify drivers who are under the influence of illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs, Baldwin said.

These Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) are trained to recognize the effects of drugs and alcohol on the body, she said.

She offered these reminders about impaired driving:

• Only time will sober you up, not coffee, energy drinks or cold showers.

• It’s not OK to drive impaired if going only a short distance.

• Prescription medication can affect you, even without adding alcohol. If there’s a warning on the label about driving, don’t drive.

• You can be arrested for DUI even if you’re blood alcohol content is below 0.08.

• Any law enforcement officer can arrest a driver suspected of DUI.

In Washington state, the DRE program and toxicology testing are resulting in better identification of the effects of drugs on drivers, Baldwin said.

Between 1998 and 2007, drug-involved traffic deaths increased by 150 percent, she said. During the same period, the number of deceased drivers tested for drugs increased by 60 percent.

In a recent Oak Harbor case, a grandmother who drove her grandchildren to a water park, then took a number of Xanax pills when the noise became intolerable, was arrested and convicted of DUI and child endangerment, Baldwin said.

Leaving the park, the woman hit a parked car, and one of her grandchildren, who wasn’t properly secured in a child car seat, hit her head on the dashboard, the police report said.

For additional information about the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, visit www.wtsc.wa.gov.

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