Labor Day is Monday and the long holiday weekend starts at pau hana time Friday.
For many, that means celebrations with family and friends, backyard barbecues and the beach. Often, those celebrations include excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages and perhaps other intoxicants.
“We will have officers patrolling and at designated roadblocks throughout the island,” said Torey Keltner, program manager of Hawaii Police Department’s Traffic Services Section. “Those are assigned by the district commanders. So it’s not just the roadblocks that are out there, it’s also officers who are responding to and from calls who are watching for DUI drivers.”
As of Wednesday, traffic fatalities were down on Hawaii Island roads in 2019 with 14 official fatalities — plus one in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and another police say was caused by a medical condition, so they don’t count toward the official total. That’s compared to 20 fatalities, all official, at this time in 2018. But the long weekend can sometimes change that, Keltner said.
“With many holidays, there’s always a bump in the number of people that are out driving. And when we have events where we have family, friends and people are celebrating … they consume alcohol and things that make them intoxicated,” he said. “So the numbers of (DUI arrests), typically they rise here on the Big Island. Our goal is to minimize the numbers of fatalities, the number of major accidents and the number of minor accidents, as well. Because that’s what the DUI enforcement is about, to keep people safe. So if we let people know ahead of time that we’re going to have more enforcement and we have officers out there working and trying to prevent those things from happening, hopefully, they’re making better decisions themselves and they don’t … get into trouble.”
The state this year decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana intended for personal use, imposing a fine instead of possible jail time. Keltner said marijuana “slows reaction times, impairs cognitive performance, and makes it more difficult for drivers to keep a steady position in their lane” and that those effects are heightened if the person ingesting cannabis is also consuming alcohol. Prescription and over-the-counter medications, especially when taken in conjunction with other medications or alcohol consumption, can also impair driving, he said.
“Any form of impaired driving is illegal,” he cautioned.
According to statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety, 42% of drivers in fatal crashes who were tested, tested positive for drugs.
“Almost everyone knows that driving drunk is dangerous, puts lives at risk, and can get you a DUI, but there isn’t the same awareness for drug-impaired driving,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King. “At NHTSA, we are working hard to raise awareness among the driving public of the fact that driving impaired by drugs is illegal in every state.
“We want to encourage people to think twice before driving and to follow through by designating a sober driver, calling a cab or using a ride-sharing service.”
Police have ramped up traffic and parking enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway near Maunakea Access Road and the site of protests over the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. Keltner said that will not impact DUI enforcement over the holiday weekend.
“Obviously, we have numbers that don’t change for law enforcement officers. It would be great to have a whole lot more, but the DUI roadblocks, the DUI investigations from officers who are patrolling, that’s going to be throughout the island. It’s not going to be focused on one particular area,” he said.
For those hosting Labor Day weekend get-togethers and those in attendance, Keltner has some advice.
“If you have a function where people are consuming alcohol, make sure they have a safe ride home. And if they have to stay, let them stay where they can be safe,” he said.
“Don’t let people drive impaired. If you’ve used something yourself that’s going to keep you from driving safely, there are all kinds of things where you can get a ride share, different places where you can get safely where you need to go and not have to drive.
“If you’re going to drive, stay sober or you’re going to get pulled over. It’s a real thing, and officers are out there to make sure that you stay safe.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.