Along with the fireworks, flag-waving and cookouts that accompany the July 4 holiday, there will be people who drive after having too much to drink. And police will be out in force looking for them.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Thursday announced a countywide DUI enforcement effort that began Monday and will continue through the holiday weekend. Several DUI task forces and Pittsburgh and state police will increase patrols and establish sobriety checkpoints.
“They’re going to be very active,” he said at a news conference on a traffic island on Corrigan Drive in South Park. The island has been decorated with 1,109 small American flags — one for every DUI-related crash reported in Allegheny County last year. The flags will be in place through July 4.
With nice weather, a three- or four-day weekend for many people and the traditional events and observances, Mr. Zappala expects the weekend to be one of the most heavily traveled of the year. Police usually see a spike in drunken driving during holiday periods and will make enforcement a top priority, he said.
Cathy Tress, regional law enforcement liaison for the nonprofit Pennsylvania DUI Association, said task forces made up of multiple police forces operate in every part of the county.
“The bottom line is that we don’t want to keep responsible adults from drinking. We don’t want them to get behind the wheel if they’re impaired,” she said.
Mr. Zappala said his office prosecutes about 5,000 DUI cases per year. A typical case can cost the offender several thousand dollars for legal representation and fines. “It’s an expensive proposition,” he said. “Depending on the blood alcohol level, you could also lose your license, affecting your livelihood.”
Ms. Tress said police use crash and DUI arrest statistics to determine where to set up checkpoints. “They don’t just plop them down wherever they feel like it,” she said. A standard field sobriety test is used if the officer suspects impairment, followed if necessary by portable breath testing.
“We have a large coverage area” with the task forces and Pittsburgh police, she said. “And the state police can go anywhere.”
There were 282 crashes and five fatalities reported in Pennsylvania on July 4 last year. Thirty-nine of the crashes and three of the deaths were alcohol-related. Eleven of the 25 fatalities in the 10-day period leading up to and following Independence Day were alcohol-related, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
PennDOT spokesman Jay Ofsanik in Washington County said the last time July 4 fell on a Friday, in 2008, 66 people died on Pennsylvania roadways during the holiday period. Alcohol-related crashes accounted for 33 of those fatalities.
“We’re asking people to please act responsibly,” Mr. Zappala said.
“It’s not worth the risk of your life and the people you’re sharing the road with, or the embarrassment and the cost,” Ms. Tress said.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868. Twitter: @pgtraffic.