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Police, IDIPIC pursue safe New Year’s Eve on island

One of the keys to having a happy New Year’s Day is to make it through the night before without getting arrested, crashing a car, killing someone or getting killed.

Since New Year’s Eve is a traditional night of alcohol-induced revelry, law enforcement agencies on Whidbey Island are teaming up for a special DUI-related patrol emphasis on state, county and city roads.

Troopers with the State Patrol will patrol Highways 20 and 525 as usual on New Year’s Eve, but with one special change for the holiday. Alicia Crossley, secretary at the Oak Harbor State Patrol office, said a member of the statewide DUI squad will be working a 10-hour shift on Whidbey.

Jan Smith, spokesperson for the Island County Sheriff’s Office, said extra patrols will be out Friday “helping keep the county roads safer.” The overtime costs are covered through a grant from the state Traffic Safety Commission.

“Please don’t drink to excess and don’t drive when you drink,” she said.

Likewise, Capt. Rick Wallace with the Oak Harbor Police Department said the department will have two extra patrols out over the holiday, as they do every year.

Perhaps because of all the extra law enforcement on the roads, New Year’s has been a fairly safe holiday in recent years. In fact, Wallace said officers make more traffic stops on New Year’s Eve, but end up arresting fewer than the average number of drivers for DUI.

Nevertheless, a local expert on impaired driving warns folks to be careful and urges people simply not to drive if they will be drinking or taking medication. JoAnn Hellmann, coordinator of the Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County, points out that people should be vigilant about impaired driving all year round, not just when the big boozing holiday roll around.

According to the 2003 report on the Health of Island County, car crashes are the leading cause of accidental deaths for people under the age of 65. In a 2004 report, the National Traffic Safety Commission reported that 43 percent of car fatalities in the state last year were alcohol-related.

Hellmann said there’s a lot of misinformation and myths about impaired driving floating around. “People have this

tion that if you’re not a big sloppy drunk behind the wheel, you’re not a hazard,” she said. “The truth is that your impairment starts at the first drink.”

Some things people should be aware of is that many medications, not just cough syrup, can impair driving ability. Women have “three strikes against them,” she said, because they are smaller, have a higher percentage of body fat (which prolongs the effects of alcohol) and they have a lower amount of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.

To be truly safe, a designated driver should refrain from having any alcohol or drugs, she said.

The Impaired Driving Impact Panel consists of community members, police officers, the coroner, and others who speak about how lives have been touched or torn apart by impaired driving. The nonprofit group started out as a creative sentencing project for impaired drivers and underaged drinking, but evolved into program that also targets youth. To date, over 1,000 driver’s education students have attended the panel.

Because of success of IDIPIC, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission recently honored Hellmann with a citizen award at the 17th annual Impaired Driver Safety Conference.

“She was given the award for her untiring efforts in education and awareness programs for youth relating to underage drinking and driving under the influence,” the Traffic Safety Commission press release states.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

Community Events, April 2014

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