The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol announced that a crackdown on drunken driving will begin Friday and end Tuesday, in conjunction with the upcoming Memorial Day holiday.
The Memorial Day weekend, which has traditionally signaled the start of summer, is also a weekend in which law enforcement wants to reduce driving while under the influence of alcohol and other substances, said Sgt. Rick Sung of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
"It may seem like we're just after arrests," Sung said. "As long as we keep down the fatalities, that's what we want."
The "Avoid the 13" campaign will involve all on-duty patrol officers and overtime patrols paid for with a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety. Statewide, the California Highway Patrol will start its "MEP"—Maximum Enforcement Period—beginning Friday evening and ending in the early hours of Tuesday.
"We really step up the enforcement," said CHP officer Kory Seely from the San Jose CHP division. "Everyone's available."
Through the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department, three cities will use grant money this weekend to focus enforcement. Campbell, Milpitas and Mountain View, three participating agencies, will be among those putting overtime money to use to nab drunken drivers, Sung said. The contract cities of Los Altos Hills, Cupertino and Saratoga will also have more officers on the road using overtime grant money. All other communities generally participate with regular staffing and heightened attention to signs of drunken driving, Sung said.
"When we're looking for DUI drivers, we're basically looking for people driving erratically, other objective signs, such as braking, speeding, weaving in and out of the lane, driving too slowly," he said. Those people get pulled over and get evaluated.
The sheriff's department and its partners recommended the following steps for a safe Memorial Day weekend:
- Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin. Before drinking, designate a sober driver and leave your car keys at home.
- If you happen to see a drunken driver on the road, don’t hesitate to call 911.
- If you know someone who is about to drive while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they need to go safely.
If you're wondering what areas to avoid, there aren't any particular places, both the sheriff's department and CHP said.
The sheriff's department generally uses saturation staffing and roving patrols to find signs of drunken drivers. "We haven't done a checkpoint in six years."
"For us, it runs anywhere, everywhere, said officer Adam Rodriguez of the Hollister-Gilroy CHP office. "It's freeways, unincorporated roads, way out in the sticks and on the county roads in the middle of nowhere."
Law enforcement can't set up outside a popular park where grilling and drinking too much might go hand-in-hand, for example. Besides, there are just too many ways people travel from popular gathering points.
"Let's say there's a gathering at Mt. Madonna Park at the top of Highway 152," Rodriguez said. "People could leave and go via Santa Teresa home, via Monterey, up 101, or head out to Santa Cruz via Highway 17.
He added, "That's why we do MEP, to catch them before they crash."
In 2010, the sheriff's department ended its Friday-to-Monday DUI campaign with 146 arrests, plus four DUI-related arrests. It had six DUI-related crashes that resulted in five injuries, but no fatalities.
And that's a stat Sung likes, he said.