Police out in force this holiday weekend

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX – As we get into the long Labor Day weekend, law-enforcement agencies throughout the state are gearing up to get drunk drivers off the roadways and keep you safe.

As always, the twofold message is simple. Obey all traffic laws and don’t drink and drive because if you drive hammered, you’re going to get nailed.

There are always many people on the road Labor Day weekend and it’s not uncommon for many celebrations to involve alcohol. The combination can be a recipe for disaster.

“It’s the last holiday of the summer. … It’s like the last hurrah of the summer,” Sgt. Tim Kvochick of the Department of Public Safety explained. “We see a lot of traffic on this holiday weekend.”

Labor Day weekend has become one of the most dangerous holiday weekends for Arizona drivers. Over the past five years, car wrecks over Labor Day weekend have killed some 70 people.

If you are one of those who is going to be out and about, chances are you’re going to see more officers on the road than usual, including dozens of DUI checkpoints scattered all over the state.

“The message is obey the traffic laws, please,” Kvochick said. “Don’t’ drink and drive. Wear your seat belt. Just pay attention to your surroundings and traffic. Take your time getting where you’re going to you can get there safely.”

With a special focus on Interstate 10, Interstate 40 and Interstate 8 from California to New Mexico, DPS officers will be positioned every 10 miles. In the metro areas, there will be officers every two miles. DPS has dubbed its enforcement effort Operation Safe Passage.

"We're going to be out with zero tolerance level on traffic enforcement," Kvochick said.

The idea is to teach drivers to obey traffic laws all the time, not just when they spot a patrol car. That's why a few of the units taking part in Operation Safe Passage will not be marked.

DPS officers will target a variety of hazardous driving behaviors, including speeding, following too close and unsafe lane changes, as well as impaired driving and occupant restraint violations.

If you do plan to drink this holiday weekend, make sure you have a designated driver.

Operation Safe Passage, which is a DPS effort, starts at noon Friday and runs through about 10 p.m.

“We’ll just have additional enforcement throughout the weekend,” Kvochick said. “We’ll have a little bit more enforcement on Monday because we see a lot of returning traffic on Monday and Monday evening.

Operation Safe Passage is the first of what will be several similar operations throughout the year to help ensure that Arizona drivers and those passing through the Grand Canyon state are safe.

“Every passenger car driver and truck driver should feel safe and be deterred against committing violations that cause or contribute to fatal and other crashes on our highways” says Lieutenant Colonel Jack Hegarty of the Arizona Highway Patrol in a news release.

In addition to Operation Safe Passage, law-enforcement agencies from all over the state are ramping up for increased patrols and DUI checkpoints as part of the statewide Drive Hammered, Get Nailed campaign, which is a Governor’s Office of Highway Safety initiative that runs through the holiday weekend.

“The goal is to reduce those fatal accidents,” he continued. "We want people to celebrate Labor Day, a time for reflection and gratitude, but to do so responsibly by having a designated driver, calling a friend, or taking a taxi home,” said GOHS director Alberto Gutier.

In 2010, more than 33,000 officers and deputies took part in Driver Hammered, Get Nailed. They made more than 219,500 traffic stops throughout the year, resulting in a total of 18,674 DUI arrests, nearly 5,500 seat-belt citations and more than 99,600 other traffic citations.

Bottom line? Be sober. Be safe.