A main objective in an areawide crackdown on impaired drivers through Labor Day is to get drivers to think, law enforcement officials said Friday.
Think about what it would be like to kill loved ones or innocent strangers. Think about the costs of missing work or losing a job and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines and attorney fees. Think about losing a driver's license, having to use an ignition interlock device and having to sit for months in jail.
The consequences are painful and can be easily prevented officials said Friday at a gathering of area law enforcement agencies to announce an emphasis on DUI enforcement and awareness from now through the holiday period.
The area effort is part of a statewide and nationwide DUI prevention and enforcement effort.
Tom Weilert, an assistant district attorney in Sedgwick County, said that as a prosecutor handling traffic deaths, he has spoken to the families who lost loved ones to impaired drivers. He called the experience "quite moving and quite tragic."
"This is a very serious community problem," Weilert said.
Last year, the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office arrested 904 people for DUI, Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said. Through July of this year, deputies have arrested 505 people for DUI.
Sometimes, it takes only one or two drinks, Hinshaw said.
Weilert noted that new laws have increased DUI penalties.
Among the overall penalties: a minimum $750 fine for a first DUI conviction; 48 hours to six months in jail for a first offense. Also, someone refusing to a take a breath test for the first time will lose their license for a year, followed by having to use an ignition interlock device for another year.
A person out drinking might think it's too much of a hassle to take a taxi home and arrange to pick up their car the next day, Weilert said.
But considering the possible consequences of driving, the inconvenience is "really pretty minor," he said.
During the gathering, at a fire station off 77th Street North, authorities displayed a new enclosed trailer that will eventually be used to conduct sobriety tests.
The trailer also will transport lights used to help illuminate DUI check lanes in order to increase safety when vehicles are lined up.
The trailer, maintained by the Sheriff's Office and funded by a grant, will be available to other area law enforcement agencies.
According to national data provided at Friday's gathering:
In 2009, 4,206 people ages 21 to 34 died in crashes involving alcohol.
The typical impaired driver is a man age 21 to 34.
People are much more apt to drive impaired at night.
Nearly one-third of the drivers in fatal crashes on weekends were under the influence of alcohol.