The Hawaii Police Department plans to have DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols on the Big Island’s roads for the Christmas and New Year’s Day weekends.
That’s despite the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus that has triggered a spike in statewide COVID-19 cases.
“Roadblocks are part of the plan,” said Torey Keltner, the department’s Traffic Services Section program manager. “But a big thing is, we’ve got to make sure the officers have their safety equipment and they’re taking care of themselves and other people, and acting in a manner to make sure this is not one of the ways (the virus) is being transmitted.
“There are a lot of safety measures that are in place for them.”
Police arrested 31 motorists for DUI the week of Dec. 13-19, with nine of the drivers involved in a traffic accident. Only one week, Oct. 25-31, had more impaired driving arrests this year, with 33.
“We definitely had roadblocks going on this past weekend,” Keltner said. “And we’ve encouraged the districts to increase those, and the district commanders are definitely using our grant-funded projects to get out there and do not just roadblocks, but saturation patrols.”
Saturation patrols involve stationing additional officers in areas known to be likely routes for impaired drivers.
There have been 26 official traffic fatalities this year, the latest coming early Monday morning when 28-year-old Patrick Enos of Hilo died in a two-car collision at the corner of Highway 11 and Kipimana Street, the entrance to Shipman Business Park just north of Keaau.
That’s 11 more fatalities this year than in 2020 — when emergency measures included lockdowns and the shuttering of bars and indoor restaurant service early in the pandemic. It’s also one more than the 25 traffic fatalities recorded in 2019, when the pandemic wasn’t a factor.
Keltner said toxicology reports haven’t been received for all the fatal collisions, but of those for which toxicology results have been received, “16 of those cases involved drugs of some kind,” Keltner said.
“Only one of those fatalities had only alcohol in their system,” he continued. “Six had a combination of alcohol and drugs. That’s not to minimize it. That’s a fairly significant number, because last year it was only eight.
“The previous year, 2019, was a better comparison. And for that year, we had only 10 fatalities that involved driver impairment, for the whole year. And that’s with having all the test results in, which we don’t have yet this year.”
Keltner said the department’s officers are trained to look for the signs of driver impairment by other drugs, as well as alcohol.
“And people need to understand that medications, marijuana and other illicit hard drugs can impair a person and prevent them from driving safely,” he added.
Police also are aware that some social media pages publicize the locations officers have set up DUI checkpoints.
“We’re fine when people publicize those roadblocks. We want people to know we’re out there working and doing that,” Keltner said. “But they also have to understand that we also have officers who are out there patrolling the areas where we know they’re going to be traveling. The roadblocks and saturation patrols will be in areas where they complement each other, so we can try to keep the number who get hurt or killed from increasing.”
Keltner mentioned the Vision Zero Network, a group that espouses the philosophy that traffic fatalities are unacceptable under any circumstances.
“Zero is what we shoot for, and no fatalities are acceptable,” he said. “You would think with us being locked down, pulled back, and with less traffic on the road, we would go back to driving safely. But, unfortunately, we are having these high numbers of fatalities. We have to get people to slow down, because speed is a factor in many of these crashes. If we can get people to slow down, be courteous — and drive with aloha for real — that would be a benefit.
“There’s no excuse to drive fast. There’s no excuse to drive impaired. And there’s no excuse to not wear your seat belt. It’s not new information, and there’s no excuse to not follow the laws and rules.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald