2017-03-17 / Front Page

Celebrate Safely

By Hector Gonzaelz

CELEBRATE SAFELY— Ranked as the fourth-most-popular drinking day on the calendar— behind Fourth of July, Christmas and New Year’s—St. Patrick’s Day is a big day for area bars. To ensure inebriated drivers don’t get behind the wheel, law enforcement will saturate streets and freeways with extra patrols. The age-old advice applies: Devise a safe plan to get home before heading out to imbibe, police say. CELEBRATE SAFELY— Ranked as the fourth-most-popular drinking day on the calendar— behind Fourth of July, Christmas and New Year’s—St. Patrick’s Day is a big day for area bars. To ensure inebriated drivers don’t get behind the wheel, law enforcement will saturate streets and freeways with extra patrols. The age-old advice applies: Devise a safe plan to get home before heading out to imbibe, police say. Seeing leprechauns? Time to call a cab.

That’s the advice police agencies from Ventura County to Sacramento have for St. Patrick’s Day revelers. The official holiday is today, but law enforcement officials expect the celebrations will continue through the weekend.

To ensure drivers aren’t behind the wheel after downing one too many green beers, local police plan to saturate streets and freeways with extra patrols through Sunday.

Ranked as the fourth-most popular day for drinking behind Fourth of July, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day means “bottom’s up” for many.

Among U.S. drivers involved in fatal DUI collisions on St. Patrick’s, 75 percent had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit, according to figures compiled by wallethub.com.

“Because the holiday itself is associated with consuming alcohol, where there’s more people drinking and getting out on the roadway afterwards, we’re just trying to make sure people have a plan ahead of time,” said Sgt. Sean Britt of the Camarillo Police Department’s traffic bureau.

“Uber, Lyft and standard cab services are available in the city of Camarillo,” Britt added. “The main thing is getting a designated driver before you go out, and just kind of have a plan.”

Using grant money from the state Office of Traffic Safety, the department is fielding two additional patrol cars this weekend and assigning them to solely be on the lookout for impaired drivers, Britt said.

Police in Thousand Oaks will man a sobriety checkpoint Saturday night at an undisclosed location, traffic bureau Sgt. Arnold Patterson said.

“We will have saturation patrols as well that weekend,” he said.

Simi Valley police also will be out in force through the weekend, traffic bureau Cmdr. Robert Arabian said, although the holiday celebrating all things Irish doesn’t usually cause a spike in local DUI arrests.

“Not really. People here and those who come from out of the city are pretty well-behaved,” he said.

California Highway Patrol officials also reminded revelers to make a plan for getting home before the party starts.

“We want everyone to enjoy the festivities and have a good time, but to do so responsibly,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said in a news release Tuesday. “Designate a sober driver before the party starts or make arrangements for a taxi or ride-sharing service.

Britt suggested drivers download the Designated Driver VIP app, which the Office of Traffic Safety launched in 2014. The free mobile app, downloadable for iOS and Android devices, features exclusive offers and discounts for sober designated drivers at a growing list of participating bars and restaurants throughout California, the state agency’s website said.

Last year the Office of Traffic Safety distributed $96.6 million to counties to fund traffic safety programs, including $21.8 million to enforce alcohol-impaired driving laws. But DUI arrests by CHP officers were up last St. Patrick’s Day from the year before.

CHP officers arrested 145 suspected drunk drivers last March 17, compared to 120 in 2015. But arrests for DUI fell dramatically in 2015 compared to 2014, when CHP officers arrested 489 impaired drivers, and 2013, when 430 suspected drunk drivers were taken off the roads.

Three people died in drunk driving collisions last St. Patrick’s Day and 60 others were injured statewide, CHP spokesperson Cmdr. Josh Ehlers said.

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