ORLANDO – Anyone traveling on Interstate 4 in the past week from Orlando to the theme parks knows it’s felt at times like a parking lot, as hundreds of motorists have flocked to the region for the holiday season.
But as this final holiday weekend comes to a close, with one last big celebration among friends, families and co-workers ringing in the new year, local law enforcement is reminding people to have a great time – but to do it safely.
And that means don’t even think about having a lot to drink and then getting behind the wheel of a car – because deputies will be patrolling the roads, making sure anyone who drinks and drives ends up someplace where they can’t get into a crash, and that’s the county jail.
“The message is simple,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “If you plan to consume alcohol, you should plan not to get behind the wheel of a vehicle or ride a motorcycle.”
Today, Polk County Sheriff’s Traffic deputies began conducting DUI saturation patrols countywide to stop and arrest impaired drivers who hit the roads throughout the holiday weekend. The deputies will be on the roadways now through Monday, Jan. 2.
Members of the DUI Enforcement Unit are also patrolling Polk’s roadways to catch anyone who is driving impaired.
“We know that the holiday season can be one of the deadliest and most dangerous times on our roadways due to drunk driving,” Judd said. “If you are found to be driving under the influence, you will go to jail.”
Lake County is taking a similar approach. The Lake County Community Traffic Safety Team is also on the roads this weekend, through Jan. 2, to arrest anyone caught driving while impaired.
“The message is simple — ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,’ ” said Sgt. Tom McKane, chairman of the Lake County CTST. “Drinking alcohol and driving do not mix.”
McKane cited statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, showing there were 753 people killed in the month of December 2009 in crashes that involved drivers or motorcycle riders with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 grams per deciliter — or higher.
NTHS also reported that fatalities from alcohol-impaired driving crashes account for one in three deaths on American roadways each year.
On this final holiday weekend, McKane said, people who behave responsibly and avoid alcohol if they plan to drive shouldn’t be put at risk because of the dangerous behavior of those who opt to risk drinking and driving.
“Unfortunately, millions of drivers on America’s highways choose to jeopardize their safety and the safety of others on our roads,” McKane said, and he had a special warning for those in Lake County who fail to heed this warning.
“Whether you’ve had way too many or just one too many, it’s not worth the risk, because there will be no spreading holiday cheer behind the bars of a jail cell,” he said.
The counties are offering some advice for people this weekend, starting with one simple notion: Plan ahead, including arranging a safe way to get home before joining any celebrations that involve alcohol. That could include designating a sober driver to take you home.
Anyone who does drink should consider calling a taxi or sober friend or family member to drive them home, or simply using public transportation. They can also check local listings for AAA’s “Tow and Go,” a free program that takes the vehicle and the driver home. The program is confidential and offered throughout Florida.
People who plan to be on the road Saturday night, but don’t plan to drink, can make themselves more safe by wearing a seat belt while in a car or using a helmet and protective gear when on a motorcycle, since these are likely to be the best defenses against an impaired driver.
Most of all, the sheriff’s offices are urging, if anyone sees a drunk driver on the road, don’t hesitate to contact local law enforcement by immediately calling 9-1-1.
For more information on Lake County Community Traffic Safety Team, call 352-483-9048.
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