- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday said new high-tech gear will help officers curb drunken drivers and prevent traffic fatalities over the Labor Day weekend.
Police will set up sobriety checkpoints each day of the long weekend. At each checkpoint, a truck equipped with sobriety-testing analysis gear will provide immediate results. Saturation patrols — officers equipped with sobriety-testing devices — also will prowl the streets in search of drunken drivers.
"If you choose to drink and drive in the District of Columbia this weekend, we are going after you in a big way," Chief Ramsey said at news conference outside police headquarters.
D.C. police also will use newly installed surveillance systems in patrol cars to monitor drivers, passive alcohol sensors disguised as flashlights at sobriety checkpoints and radio-sized breath analyzers.
Virginia and Maryland state police are making similar preparations to nab drunken drivers.
An all-out enforcement effort is needed, police and safety officials said, because drunken driving and alcohol-related traffic deaths are on the rise in the metropolitan area after having been on the decline during the previous four years.
In addition, the National Safety Council estimates the region this weekend will have 474 traffic fatalities, 237 of which will be attributable to drunken driving.
AAA Mid-Atlantic estimates nearly 500,000 local residents are expected to travel this weekend.
During all of last year, D.C. police arrested 1,847 motorists on charges of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Meanwhile, 50 persons were killed in traffic accidents, and nine of those deaths resulted from alcohol-related crashes, said Lt. Patrick Burke, the D.C. police department's traffic controller.
"We are still waiting for the toxicology results to return, but we suspect the number of alcohol-related fatalities could go as high as 50 percent," Lt. Burke said.
In 1999, 46 persons were killed in D.C. traffic accidents, 14 of whom were involved in alcohol-related crashes, according to traffic-safety statistics compiled for the District by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
"If that is true, then the news is very troubling," said Kurt G. Erickson, executive director of the Vienna, Va.-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program. "Currently, one out of three of all fatal car crashes in the Washington area are alcohol-related."
Chief Ramsey said apprehending drunken drivers is part of the District's public-safety goal.
"We sincerely hope the National Safety Council's estimates are too high," Chief Ramsey said. "Public safety is not only about crime, it is also about traffic enforcement."

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