Heightened weekend patrols and increased education are planned for North Idaho as part of National Drunken and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, local law enforcement representatives said Monday.
Officers from several different agencies are encouraging motorists to report drunken drivers to police and to wear their seat belts. They are asking drivers to turn on their headlights on Dec. 19 in remembrance of the victims of alcohol- and drug-related accidents.
Police also will be available to give driving safety talks to businesses, schools and community groups, said Idaho State Police Sgt. Jay Komosinski.
The local effort is part of a nationwide campaign to increase awareness about the effects drinking and drug use has on driving.
Kootenai County had the highest number of drunken driving accidents per capita in the state last year, Kootenai County sheriff’s Sgt. Al March said. Allegedly drunken drivers have killed three people - including a 13-year-old boy - during the past four months in Post Falls alone.
“Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of deaths among our teens,” said Post Falls Sgt. Scot Haug.
Last year, 23,929 collisions reported on Idaho roadways caused $1.4 billion in damages. Those collisions killed 259 people and one-third of the deaths were caused by drunken drivers.
Fifteen of those fatal accidents occurred in North Idaho.
“My primary concern in all of this is really the innocent bystanders,” said state Sen. Jack Riggs, who also attended Monday’s kick-off at Kootenai Medical Center.
Among the solutions Riggs proposed was a diversion program for first-time drunken driving offenders to teach them the effects of driving impaired.
One arrest for being an alcohol- or drugimpaired driver is too many, Riggs said.
“That should be a strong signal that there is a problem,” he said. “That’s the best time to intervene and change that behavior.”
While drunken driving continues to plague North Idaho, the number of drug-impaired drivers also has become an increasing problem, police said.
“People are realizing that it’s a problem,” March said. “It’s more prevalent than we would have liked to have believed.”
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