One of the year’s big drinking holidays is this weekend. In response the Colorado State Patrol has stepped up drunk and high driving enforcement for the Labor Day weekend.
The Heat is On is a statewide effort by the highway patrol and local law enforcement to get drunks off the road. The campaign includes more police cars patrolling the roads and in some cases traffic roadblocks where all or most drivers are checked for possible intoxication. APR's Roger Adams reports.
Emily Wilfong is with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It’s a multi-week enforcement period knowing that people are out celebrating the end of summer culminating with Labor Day. Law enfocement is out in full force looking for impaired drivers and getting them off the roads.”
Wilfong says the efforts are paying off citing a downward trend in arrests for drinking and driving or DUI, driving under the influence. Last year over the Labor Day Heat is On sweeps she says there were about 13 hundred DUI arrests statewide. That was down from the previous year when there were 15 hundred arrests. The fact is driving drunk is not confined to the high drinking days like Labor Day, the fourth of July or New Years.
“I’ll tell you in Pitkin County it is the number one traffic related concern I have," says Joe DiSalvo, sheriff of Pitkin County. He says drunk driving is a priority for his deputies.
“In Pitkin County the heat is always on. I have told my guys I want them out there getting DUIs off our road. I can’t tell my deputies enough times, DUIs is where I want you spending your time. The two traffic deaths we had recently…unnecessary deaths.”
Already this summer in the mid-valley there have been two deaths on the road caused by drinking. A drunk pedestrian was hit and killed on Highway 82 near Basalt and a woman was killed at Catherine Store when a drunk broadsided her. A quick scan of current inmates in the Pitkin and Garfield jails finds a large number charged or convicted of driving high or drunk. Despite efforts like the Heat is On – the problem continues which raises the question – why not do something that really works. Why for example don’t police departments station cops out side bars…every night all year? Why not have roadblocks up all the time? Why not install interlock devices in all vehicles that require the diver to blow into a breathalyzer in order the get the car started? Sheriff DiSalvo.
“Staking out bars and waiting for people to come out, I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
Still this idea is not unlike what happens everyday at every airport in the world – where everyone is in effect considered guilty until proven innocent by a body scan search.
Like DiSalvo, Brad Osborn says the tradeoffs between safety and liberty, are not worth it. Osborn is a state-certified addiction counselor. He has a private practice in Basalt providing addiction counseling, assessment and intervention.
“When we’re working with folks around DUIs and addiction and alcohol or drug abuse its important to remember that its not the whole community that is creating the problem. Its really one out of ten people who use substances develop a problem. One out of ten of those people that are drinking excessively are going to create some sort of problem and those are the DUIs.”
While creating a police state to stop drunk driving might actually work the costs to freedom would be high and, says Osborn, not really prevent the worst offenders – alcoholics and addicts.
“Now if somebody has a substance abuse problem, once they start drinking, they probably no longer have the ability to make that decision around whether they get in the car.”
Osborn supports programs like the highway patrol’s Heat is On. He says the high profile enforcement will likely stop a casual drinker from driving. Ultimately, as addiction and alcoholism get more attention as a public health problem more and more alcoholics will seek treatment and more and more their friends and loved ones will get bolder about intervening.
“If I have a loved one that is drinking too much I have an obligation to express how much I care about them by intervening with them and saying to them its not OK with me that you’re driving when you’re drinking like this. And, not to just intervene with them but to help them, support them with getting the help they need.”
In the Roaring Fork Valley there is a growing and active sober community. And besides that says Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, here there is simply no excuse for driving drunk
“There’s not a single reason why anyone in this community should get behind the wheel of a car because there are so many options. RFTA, tipsy taxi, call a friend, call a cop if you don’t want to drive home. There are alternatives and people should know.”
RFTA, tipsy taxi, call a friend or call a cop…or drive drunk, get arrested, thrown in jail, pay lots of money for court costs and higher insurance rates…or worse, kill someone. Its really up to you.
More on Drunk Driving, alcoholism, addiction:
Colorado State Patrol - The Heat Is ON
Brad Osborn CACIII, CADCII, CAI - Addiction Counseling, Assessment, Intervention, in Basalt, 970-319-8001, email: BradACAI@gmail.com
Narcotics Anonymous Meeting Schedule: http://nacolorado.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/MountainsWestArea.pdf
Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting Schedule: http://www.coaadistrict14.org/meeting-schedule/
Aspen Detox / Mind Springs Health: https://www.mindspringshealth.org/