Police Cracking down on Drunk Driving

31 12 2007

As the clock runs out on 2007 tonight, police departments across North Jersey will have additional officers on the streets looking for drivers who got behind the wheel after having one too many.

Police will be on the lookout for the usual telltale signs: erratic driving, slow driving and cars without headlights. Anyone caught driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 percent will be arrested, police chiefs said.

“We’ll have Breathalyzer operators on duty,” said Little Ferry Chief Ralph Verdi. “If somebody’s drinking and driving and they come through town, they’re going to get caught and they’re going to get arrested.”

Police chiefs are eager to show they mean business when it comes to drunken-driving enforcement. Of 772 auto accident deaths in New Jersey last year, 341, or 44 percent, were alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2005, alcohol was a factor in 38 percent of New Jersey traffic deaths.

New Jersey lowered the legal blood-alcohol level to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent in 2004. First-time offenders caught driving with a level over 0.08 but under 0.10 will lose their licenses for three months and pay $250 to $400 in fines. First-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level over 0.10 will lose their licenses for seven months to a year and will be fined $300 to $500.

For the New Jersey State Police, the annual New Year’s drunken-driving crackdown began Friday at 6 p.m., said Sgt. Stephen Jones. In North Jersey, troopers are paying particular attention to the highways that feed the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, including Routes 80 and 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike, Jones said.

Jones said the state police typically make more drunken-driving arrests around Memorial Day and Labor Day than on New Year’s Eve, perhaps because so much emphasis is placed on enforcement at the end of the year.

“The actual New Year’s Eve night, I think people plan that out a little more in advance,” Jones said. “They’ll plan to stay places overnight or they may take public transportation. There’s generally more forethought.”

Still, police chiefs said they aren’t taking any chances.

In Ridgewood, the enforcement push was scheduled to begin Saturday. Officers planned to do “walk-throughs” in the village’s half-dozen bars and in restaurants that serve liquor, said Chief William Corcoran.

“Our bartenders are keenly aware of their responsibilities,” Corcoran said. “It’s important we walk through the bars. Our mission is to keep the residents and community safe. We don’t need any needless deaths.”

Officials in several departments said they planned to pay overtime for extra officers using money from the state’s Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund. The Division of Highway Traffic Safety, which administers the fund, requires that 50 percent of any grant be used to pay for overtime patrols. The remainder may be used to buy equipment or provide training related to drunken-driving enforcement.

In Lyndhurst, roving patrols will look for drunken drivers, using money from the Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund to cover the overtime, said Chief James B. O’Connor.

The Palisades Interstate Parkway Police plan to station officers along the highway in New Jersey, where both the Rockefeller and Alpine lookouts will be open, officials said.

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