With July 4 falling on Friday this year, there’s a three-day weekend, and that will mean additional DUI enforcement and checkpoints on Big Island streets and highways starting tonight.
“It’s kind of like a Friday night,” Sgt. Robert Pauole, leader of Hawaii Police Department’s Traffic Services Division said Monday. “I’ve requested the district commanders increase their enforcement and I’ve also provided grant funding for them to conduct the additional DUI checkpoints.”
Those funds come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the state Department of Transportation, Pauole said
Two of the most crucial weekends for DUI enforcement are the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays because both are three-day weekends and are the unofficial beginning and ending of summer. Asked how high a priority DUI enforcement is for Fourth of July, Pauole called it “higher than average.”
“Normally, because Fourth of July usually falls on a weekday, it’s not as big of a factor,” he said, comparing it to the Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend holidays. “We do want to reduce the chances of having some kind of bad accident over the weekend. But considering it’s a three-day weekend, drinking and driving becomes a bigger factor and enforcement is very important.”
DUI arrests by Big Island police as of Sunday were essentially the same as during the same period last year, 616 this year compared to 625 at the same point in 2013.
Major traffic collisions have increased so far this year by almost 11 percent, 759 as of Sunday compared to 685 the previous year.
There is good news in the numbers, however.
As of Sunday, there had been seven official traffic fatalities compared to 18 during the same time last year, a decrease of 61 percent. That is, by far, the lowest number of official traffic fatalities in the first half of any year in the last decade. The fewest, according to police media releases, was 11 in 2008 and 2011, while 2004 had the highest number of fatalities, 22, through June.
According to police, five of the seven traffic deaths this year have been linked to impaired driving — three to drugs and two to a combination of drugs and alcohol.
Pauole said he thinks the unusually low number of traffic fatalities this year has “a lot to do with our increased enforcement” of DUI, speeding and other traffic laws, on the Daniel K. Inouye Memorial Highway, the new-and-improved Saddle Road.
“I think it’s had an effect,” he said.
And although that’s an anecdotal observation, the new highway dramatically cut driving time between East and West Hawaii, so fewer drivers opt to use Hawaii Belt Road (Highway 19) to the north or Mamalahoa Highway (Highway 11) to the south for their east-west commutes.
“You now have less traffic on each highway, so I think that also contributes to the lower amount of fatalities,” he said.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.