SCHP: DUI arrests up following holiday celebrations : News : WPDE

SCHP: DUI Arrests Up Following Holiday Celebrations

By Continuous News Desk
Friday, December 11, 2009 at 12:34 p.m.

Read more: Local, Crime, South Carolina Highway Patrol, Holiday Functions, Plan Ahead, DUI Arrest

The South Carolina Highway Patrol is encouraging motorists who may be attending office parties and other holiday functions to plan ahead to avoid a DUI arrest. Troopers report an increase in the number of impaired drivers being stopped this time of the year coming from office or other holiday functions.

The State Department of Public Safety sent a news release Friday saying that additionally, the number of SCHP DUI arrests are continuing to rise with the addition of new DUI teams throughout the state devoted exclusively to DUI enforcement. These teams have made more than 1,000 DUI arrests since July.

The Highway Patrol has also seen a 25 percent increase in DUI arrests since last year and a 65 percent total increase since 2005. The likelihood of being stopped for impaired driving is especially high during the holidays when the Highway Patrol teams up with local agencies for increased patrols.

Corporal Craig Herring is a Highway Patrol supervisor in Richland County. He has been a trooper for more than 17 years and consistently makes a high number of DUI arrests. There are about 100 DUI arrests in Richland/Lexington counties alone each month. Herring said he is on alert to even the smallest indicators that tip him off to impaired driving.

"This time of year, we see a higher number of impaired driving arrests resulting from people who wouldn't typically fit the stereotype of the impaired driver," Herring said. "It is not unusual to stop impaired drivers in the middle of the week who may have just gone to a local restaurant for an office celebration, got caught up in the party and had a couple of drinks."

Herring says that people tend to prepare more for New Year's celebrations, scheduling taxis, designating drivers and places to stay but often neglect to do that for an office celebration when they may not be planning to drink as much. He says that's a mistake. He also points out that people who typically drink very little during the year may have a couple of drinks at an office or other holiday party and not realize the potential effect.

"Before you know it, you can be impaired and this will have a very serious effect on your ability to safely operate a vehicle," Herring said. He pointed out that people often have the misconception that impaired drivers are only arrested late at night and on the weekends.

"It is more common to arrest impaired drivers at night, but we do arrest impaired drivers at all times of the day."

Herring points out that some people think they can go to bed, sleep for awhile and be alright to drive. Depending on how much alcohol is consumed, people can wake up and still be too intoxicated to drive.

On average, it takes one hour for every drink of alcohol to leave your system. But that can vary widely according to many factors.

"We have investigated fatalities where people died after having 'slept it off' a few hours, probably thinking they were fine," Herring said. "Our best advice is designate a driver and be absolutely sure that you are sober before you get back behind the wheel - even if it's the next day."

Herring also emphasizes that impaired driving isn't just a result of consuming alcoholic beverages. It can be drugs - legal or illegal - even prescription medication. He emphasizes that people need to know how medicine will affect them before they take it and try to drive. He encourages consumers to carefully read the warning labels.

The Highway Patrol reminds motorists to be on the lookout for impaired drivers. Do not ignore people weaving in and out of lanes, driving erratically, failing to yield at stop lights or other traffic signals. A combination of these driving behaviors may increase the likelihood that a person is driving impaired. Motorists should call *HP if they suspect a driver is impaired.