- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

Police departments throughout the region are increasing efforts to catch drunken drivers this St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

In Maryland, officials plan to have 20 checkpoints to stop motorists.

“The idea is to keep drivers guessing,” said Glenn F. Ivey, the state’s attorney for Prince George’s County.

Mr. Ivey joined the Maryland State Police and several area police departments at a press conference yesterday to inform motorists about the consequences of drinking and driving. His office also is providing six prosecutors to advise police at the checkpoints.

The Montgomery County Police Department has decided not to have checkpoints this year. The department will instead send teams to patrol areas with restaurants and bars to catch drunken drivers.

“We find it much more effective than setting up roadblocks,” said Officer Derek Baliles, a department spokesman. “We can cover more ground.”

He also said the department would focus only on the night of St. Patrick’s Day, compared to last year when it increased enforcement over the long weekend.

The teams will watch for such obvious signs of impairment as drivers weaving back and forth and making erratic speed changes and wider-than-normal turns.

They will also conduct random checks at bars to see whether bartenders are selling to underage or intoxicated drinkers, Officer Baliles said.

“Driving impaired or riding with someone who is impaired is simply not worth the risk,” Mr. Ivey said. “Not only do your risk killing yourself or someone else, … you can lose your license, face jail time, increased insurance rates, probation and even lose your job.”

In Fairfax County, officers from the West Springfield District Station conducted a checkpoint last night from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. to catch drunken drivers.

To keep such drivers off the road, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program sponsored its annual SoberRide service last night. Customers at least 21 years old received a free cab ride until 4 a.m., provided the fare did not exceed $50.

Maryland State Police arrested 191 motorists last year for driving under the influence during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

In 2004, 286 persons died in Maryland due to accidents involving drunken drivers, representing more than 44 percent of all crash fatalities.

Virginia had 343 persons killed in alcohol-related crashes, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The Virginia State Police did not respond to requests for information about motorists arrested on St. Patrick’s Day.

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