WASHINGTON – Police departments and alcohol-awareness groups across the state are gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day with increased patrols, sobriety checkpoints and free cab rides home for those who have had too much green beer.
“It’s a dangerous holiday,” said Kurt Erickson, executive director of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.
“In this country, it becomes equated with alcohol,” and specifically with drinking to excess and abusing alcohol, he said. WRAP research found that half of all traffic fatalities in the Washington area on St. Patrick’s Day are alcohol-related, Erickson said.
Maryland State Police will be conducting “Operation Leprechaun Look-Out and Lock-Up,” with officers patrolling areas with historically high concentrations of crashes and drunken driving arrests, said Sgt. Rob Moroney. Bolstered by federal highway funds, he said, the department is also adding more than 100 officers to its usual patrols for the holiday.
Prince George’s County Police will operate a sobriety checkpoint, said Mary Regan of the department’s Highway Safety Office, where officers will pass out educational material and remind drivers to wear seat belts, in addition to checking for drunken drivers.
Regan also said that many local police agencies will join the effort, including University Park, Greenbelt and the University of Maryland office of public safety. They will be helping the county with “saturation patrols,” with officers flooding trouble spots.
Not every police department will be taking extra measures.
Baltimore City Police Officer Donny Moses said it will be business as usual, with no extra patrols or checkpoints planned for St. Patrick’s Day, which he said is generally peaceful in the city.
Baltimore County Police do not have any special events planned, said Officer Shawn Vinson, a department spokesman. He said the DWI Task Force will patrol for extended hours, but there will not be any sobriety checkpoints or saturation patrols.
Erickson said WRAP will operate its SoberRide service, which provides free cab ride home to anyone over the age of 21 in need of a ride, up to a fare of $50. The program operates in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.
In addition to St. Patrick’s Day, SoberRide is offered during the Christmas and New Year’s season, on Halloween and Independence Day. It has provided 29,416 rides since 1993, and 503 rides on St. Patrick’s Day last year, Erickson said.
He said programs like SoberRide, education efforts and law enforcement operations are all needed to combat the problem of drunken driving on the holiday.
“I don’t think there’s a single silver bullet,” Erickson said.
But he added that he “would throw all of these away if I could have the public understand” that drinking and driving is still a serious problem.
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