By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It’s been an especially deadly year on Hawaii Island roads, and police are starting their holiday DUI enforcement efforts early for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
“We’ll probably be starting up anytime starting today throughout the whole week, including the weekend,” Sgt. Robert Pauole of the Hawaii Police Department’s Traffic Services Section said Monday. “People are gonna start up (drinking) probably Wednesday. We’d like to get a head start and be visible out there through the weekend, so people know we’re here.”
Officers will be conducting DUI checkpoints as part of a national and statewide campaign called “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”
“We have actually increased the amount of checkpoints that we are doing islandwide,” Pauole said, adding that the department’s district commanders are making more manpower available to conduct the sobriety checks.
During the week of Nov. 12-18, police arrested 33 motorists for drunken driving. Seven of the drivers were involved in traffic crashes. Three were under the age of 21. Sixteen of those DUI arrests were in Hilo, 14 in Kona, two in South Kohala and one in Puna.
So far this year, there have been 1,305 DUI arrests compared to 1,296 during the same period last year, an increase of 0.7 percent. There have been 1,287 major accidents so far this year compared to 1,226 during the same period last year, an increase of five percent.
There have been 36 official traffic fatalities so far this year, an increase of 100 percent over the 18 traffic deaths logged at this time in 2011. So far, 23 of those fatalities have been linked to impaired driving: nine to drugs; four to alcohol; and 10, a combination of both. This year’s roadway death toll eclipse last year’s total of 22 and the 2010 total of 27.
Pauole said the cause for the sharp increase in traffic fatalities is “hard to pinpoint.”
“It’s not just, say, a Hawaii County increase. It’s statewide as well as national,” he said. “There’s no specific turn of events that I can point it to, but we are reacting to the increase. What I’m talking about is getting out there more and trying to inform the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, which is education, and we’re also out there being visible with checkpoints and arresting people for drunken driving.”
Pauole said the department is now enforcing the county ordinance known as “Aliyah’s Law” — named after Aliyah Braden, a 17-month-old Kona girl killed on May 23, 2009, when a drunken driver ran a red light and collided with a car driven by the toddler’s mom. The ordinance allows police to tow vehicles driven by impaired or unlicensed drivers, or vehicles deemed to be illegally on the road.
“Aliyah’s Law has been in effect for about a year now,” Pauole said. “The department has been formulating its policies and the chief has informed the officers that we need to use this. So if we stop somebody and they’re intoxicated their vehicle can be towed. And it’s not just their vehicle; it’s the vehicle that they’re driving. So if you are allowing a family member or a friend to use your vehicle and he’s drinking and driving or driving without a license, the vehicle can be towed and the expense will go to you, the owner of the vehicle. And the owner’s responsible for retrieving the vehicle, as well.”
Pauole said that police have also been conducting DUI checkpoints during daylight hours and plan to continue doing so.
“We’re strategically placing these in areas where we believe there’s drinking going on in the daytime,” he said. “I observed a DUI this past week at the surf break by the Kona Bali Kai (condominiums). The guy backed up into another car, got into an accident. His blood-alcohol level was point-three-something. He was seriously impaired.” A blood-alcohol content of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated in Hawaii.
Pauole urged those who plan on drinking away from home over the holidays to have a sober designated driver or to call a taxi when the time comes to hit the road.
“We want people to be safe,” he said. “Don’t drink and drive, don’t speed and wear your seat belt. I truly believe that if everybody will just do that, then the fatality rate will decrease.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.