Law enforcement agencies across the county are gearing up for the New Year’s holiday while still watching out for Christmastime travelers.
Officer Ryan Grelle, spokesman for the Denton Police Department, said patrol efforts would be increased during the holidays to ensure that motorists stay safe.
In Texas, last year’s holiday season had 776 driving while intoxicated-related traffic accidents that resulted in more than 70 fatalities — a more than 20 percent increase from the previous year, according to police officials.
The Texas Department of Public Safety will increase its patrols in high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related accidents are most frequent, officials said. The department offered the following holiday travel tips:
Don’t drink and drive. Designate a driver or take a cab.
Eliminate distractions, including the use of mobile devices.
Buckle up everyone in the vehicle.
Slow down — especially in bad weather and construction areas.
Slow down or move over for police, fire, emergency medical services and Texas Department of Transportation vehicles and tow trucks that are stopped on the side of the road with emergency lights activated.
Don’t drive while fatigued.
Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained before your trip begins.
The Carrollton Police Department said it has had increased patrols to take intoxicated drivers off the streets since Dec. 20 and will continue to do so until Jan. 4 while it partners with the Lewisville and Coppell police departments and the Texas Highway Patrol.
Cmdr. Doug Mitchell said Carrollton officers have drawn blood for testing from 573 people arrested on DWI charges in a period ranging from the first of the year through Monday.
While some law enforcement agencies participate in “no refusal” weekends, the Carrollton department is the only Denton County agency that has a mandatory blood-draw program in effect year-round.
If a motorist is suspected of driving while intoxicated and refuses a breath test, police can obtain a search warrant to draw a blood sample, officials said.
After the suspected drunken driver is arrested and brought to the Carrollton City Jail, a trained phlebotomist takes a blood sample in a clean room specifically set up for drawing blood.
If a driver refuses, then the state has the right to impose an automatic suspension on his or her driver’s license, according to Carrollton police.
While intoxicated drivers might be more prevalent on area roads during the holiday, officials say a number of people are on the roadways just trying to visit family before their children start back to school or to simply do a little shopping.
Lewisville police Capt. Jay Powell said officers also keep an extra eye on parking lots at retail establishments and restaurants, especially along the Interstate 35E corridor during this time of year.
“Obviously, these types of locations are popular with car burglars who are hoping to find a load of Christmas gifts in an unattended vehicle,” Powell said.
He recommended that people take breaks while traveling, keep a cellphone charged in case of an emergency and know the directions to a destination.
“There’s no question in my mind that taking impaired drivers off the road saves lives and we will not rest until we stop this epidemic in our society,” said Lewisville Police Chief Russ Kerbow in an e-mail.
All agencies recommend calling 911 immediately if anyone notices a motorist showing any signs of intoxication, including zig-zagging across the road, stopping without cause or erratic braking, driving with headlights off at night and driving into opposing traffic.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.