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Effort Targets Drunk Drivers

Times Staff Writer

New Year’s Eve revelry doesn’t start in earnest until tonight, but law enforcement agencies have already begun a stepped-up effort to arrest drunk drivers and keep them off the road this holiday weekend.

Officials on Friday urged imbibers to call taxis, take advantage of free ride services or arrange for sober designated drivers to give them lifts home after partying.

“We’re asking that people plan ahead and that they recognize this is a serious matter. It pays off in lives saved,” said Deputy Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The California Highway Patrol and LAPD announced that they will have “every available officer” scanning the highways this weekend for telltale signs of driving while intoxicated, such as weaving, speeding and driving without lights.

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“That means 80% of our field officers are out patrolling,” said Officer Armando Clemente, a CHP spokesman.

Even CHP brass who normally sit behind desks are taking the wheel as part of the agency’s statewide crackdown, which began Dec. 16 and continues until midnight Monday, he said.

“The message here is that you have a choice, you have options,” said Los Angeles Councilwoman Wendy Greuel just before the LAPD’s drunk-driving patrols fanned out through the city at 5 p.m. Friday.

“It’s a time when we’re celebrating life and the beginning of a new year,” she said. “But people also forget and make bad choices. If you don’t make the right choice, we will have enforcement officers all over the city to make that choice for you.”

LAPD officers will work extra shifts through 2 a.m. Monday, said Det. Bill Bustos, who is coordinating the department’s effort.

In 2004, 13,795 people were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Los Angeles. Of those, 2,219, or about 1 in 6, were involved in crashes, in which 11 people died. Nationally, there were 16,694 alcohol-related road deaths that year, Bustos said. “So we take driving under the influence very seriously.”

Officials said the rainy weather predicted in the Southland through Monday will not hinder the patrols.

“We’ll put our motorcycle officers in cars. We’ll be out there rain or shine,” Bustos said.

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To help reduce alcoholrelated traffic accidents, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is offering free rides on its buses and trains from 9 p.m. tonight through New Year’s Day, ending at midnight, spokesman Dave Sotero said. MTA trains will also operate around the clock tonight.

Partyers who overindulge in drink can also call the Automobile Club of Southern California for a free tow and ride home. Called Tipsy Tow, the service is available through midnight Sunday. Anyone concerned about someone driving while intoxicated can call (800) 400-4222 to obtain a tow truck that will take the car and driver home. The first seven miles are free, but additional miles are charged at the tow truck contractor’s per-mile rate. The service does not include rides home for passengers.

Auto Club spokeswoman Elaine Beno said drunk driving is not only dangerous, but it’s also expensive.

A first-time DUI conviction, which carries a possible jail term of six months, costs the motorist an average of $12,100, including fines, attorney fees and increased insurance costs.

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In California, a driver with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% is legally presumed drunk. Experts say that’s about four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach for a 170-pound man, or three drinks in an hour for a 137-pound woman.

But DUI arrests and convictions can and do occur at lower blood-alcohol readings, because the law also takes into account a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle, according to the CHP’s Clemente.

“What we look at is impairment. I’ve made several arrests for 0.04%, 0.06%,” he said. “We always say, ‘One drink is one drink too many.’ ”


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