Motorists in West Michigan are reminded to designate a sober driver before heading out to root for their favorite hoops team or celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Those who choose to drive drunk after celebrating at the local sports bar or tavern could face serious penalties and find themselves in need of a pot of gold.
Law enforcement officers in 26 counties, including Allegan, Berrien, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa and Van Buren counties, are conducting extra patrols to arrest drunk drivers March 13-April 8. This time period includes the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, high school and college spring break periods and St. Patrick’s Day. A five-year review of crash data indicates both alcohol use and lack of seat belts play a significant role in fatal and serious injury crashes in March and early April.
The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) is coordinating the effort, which is supported by federal traffic safety funds.
“The message is simple. If you drive drunk you will be caught and you will be arrested,” said OHSP Director Michael L. Prince. “Designate a sober driver before the festivities begin or you could find yourself in the back of a patrol car.”
In 2012, 2,488 people were arrested for drunk driving during the NCAA tournament time period. Of those, 789 were arrested under the state’s high blood-alcohol content (BAC) law with BAC’s of .17 or higher. More than 400 of those arrests were made by grant-funded law enforcement agencies during last year’s drunk driving crackdown.
In Michigan, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher, although motorists can be arrested at any BAC level if an officer believes they are impaired. Motorists face enhanced penalties if arrested for a first-time drunk driving offense with a .17 BAC or higher.