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Drinking tonight? Don’t drive

JULIE SUTOR
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – If you’re planning to ring in the New Year with a few glasses of bubbly – or any other manner of booze – don’t get behind the wheel.

That’s the message of local law enforcement agencies, who will be at the ready to track down drunk drivers and treat them to a night at the Hotel Detox and a cozy set of black-and-white striped pajamas.

“It’s the same message every year,” Sheriff John Minor said. “If you drink, don’t drive. Get a designated driver. Make arrangements to stay where you are celebrating. Take the Summit Stage. The bottom line is: Use common sense and be safe.”

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office will increase patrols on New Year’s Eve, with about a dozen officers and two DUI-specific cars on the road.

“All of the agencies will have extra cars on for DUI detection – that will be countywide,” Silverthorne police chief Mark Hanschmidt said. “We normally don’t see as many DUIs on New Year’s Eve. I think people know the heat is on, as the slogan goes, and they understand we take it very seriously. We don’t want anybody to get hurt or killed.”

In 2007, the sheriff’s department arrested four people for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol on New Year’s Eve; last year, deputies only arrested one person.

“Hopefully, this is a good indicator that we’re getting the message across to not drink and drive,” spokeswoman Tracy LeClair said.

Hanschmidt said DUI-prevention education in Summit County is challenging, since so many people are in the area on vacation for only a week at a time. Nevertheless, he sees a lot of people doing the right thing by taking a bus to and from bars and parties.

“Having a plan is the most important element,” said Drew Mikita of the Bair Counseling Center in Frisco. “People get into trouble when they go out and don’t have a plan. Then, after they’ve been drinking, they try to figure out how to get home.”

Mikita conducts alcohol education classes and counseling to those convicted of DUIs.

“We live in small towns, and people think they can get places quickly and easily. But there’s nowhere to hide up here. You have one road in and out of each town in the county,” Mikita said.

Mikita said people often underestimate how much alcohol can get them into trouble. Drivers can be arrested for a DWAI – driving while ability impaired – with blood-alcohol levels as low as 0.05.

“Most people think that if they have one or two drinks, they’re not impaired, but the law disagrees. DWAI is different from DUI, but you’re still arrested, there are still major consequences, and you still have the risk of hurting somebody,” Mikita said.

The Summit Stage will increase the number of its free buses after 11 p.m. on the Keystone, Copper and Breckenridge routes to ensure no one is left out in the cold. The buses will run on their normal schedules, but they will operate in pairs to increase capacity along existing routes.

Buses depart Frisco Station, Silverthorne Station and Breckenridge Station at least once an hour. The buses begin their final routes of the night from those stations at 1:40 a.m., 1:55 a.m., and 1 a.m., respectively. Full schedules for each route are available on the Summit Stage Web site.

The Colorado State Patrol and 50 law enforcement agencies across Colorado are conducting impaired-driving enforcement through Jan. 4. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) kicked off the crackdown with the debut of an iPhone application that estimates blood-alcohol levels. The “R-U-Buzzed” app can be downloaded free at Apple’s App Store for those with iPhones or touch-screen iPods.

CDOT created a special Web site, http://www.PlanAheadColorado.com, for revelers headed to Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs or Boulder for New Year’s Eve. The site provides a list of bars and restaurants partnering with the state to distribute free cab vouchers, a list of hotels offering a discounted rate, overnight parking options, and public transportation alternatives such as free bus and light rail rides.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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