Though he's seen more intoxicated revelers rely on designated drivers during the past couple of New Year's Eves, Columbia County sheriff's Sgt. Paul Burks said driving under the influence is still a problem, and deputies will ring in the new year with increased patrols to catch impaired drivers.
"A lot of people are responsible and a lot of people are doing the right thing," said Burks, a special operations deputy.
"One of the best things (about working New Year's Eve) is to stop a car, smell the alcohol, but find out that the driver is stone-cold sober. That's what you want to find, that's what you want to see," he said.
Last New Year's, deputies made seven arrests for driving under the influence, Maj. Rick Whitaker said.
"That is about average for New Year's, and it is more than a normal given night," he said.
In response to the danger, deputies will have safety checkpoints at many locations throughout the county and will aggressively patrol both urban and rural thoroughfares, Burks said.
In addition to impaired drivers, deputies will be checking for valid license, registration and insurance information, he said.
"On New Year's Eve, (drivers) can look out for a stronger presence. We will have more units out. The ultimate goal is to keep everybody safe," Burks said.
Deputies will be looking for vehicles that are driving too fast, weaving in the road and disobeying road signs and traffic signals - which, Burks said, is no different from any other day.
It is illegal in the state of Georgia for someone 21 or older to operate a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level higher than .08 percent, though motorists can be arrested for lower blood-alcohol levels if authorities have probable cause to do so.
Motorists under 21 will be arrested for DUI if they register .02 percent.
A .08 amounts to a 170-pound man consuming about four drinks in one hour on an empty stomach, or a 137-pound woman consuming about three drinks in one hour on an empty stomach, according to the official Web site for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, at .08 percent, a driver's muscle coordination degrades, causing balance, speech, vision, reaction time and hearing deficiencies, and it becomes difficult for drivers to detect and react to danger. A person's judgment, self-control, reasoning and memory can also be affected.
A driver might be impaired before reaching .08 percent, the agency says.
"As we say every year, 'Use a designated driver,'" Burks said. "That is the ultimate solution to the whole problem. Unfortunately, there are people every year who choose not to."
Two or three years ago, Burks said, he worked a serious accident with injuries involving a drunken driver minutes after the stroke of midnight.
"That's the ultimate worry with people driving is them wrecking their car" and hurting themselves or others, Burks said.
Burks said he hopes people have a good time on New Year's Eve, but "use a designated driver, call a cab and if you are not drinking, be alert and drive defensively."
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