The West New York Police Department will be on the lookout for drunk drivers this holiday season as part of a statewide initiative called “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” The program grants municipalities and highway authorities additional funds during the holidays and in the summertime so they can watch for violators.
In West New York, the police will use the funds to field more nightly patrols during the time of year when statistics show drunk driving is most prevalent, said Police Director Michael Indri.
“We see a peak in DUIs and other offenses dealing with intoxication during the holidays, so the funds allow us to keep a closer eye on what’s happening,” he said. “The more officers we have out, the more we can detect telltale signs of drunk driving.”
The town was one of 95 municipalities in New Jersey to receive a grant of $4,400 from the state’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety to pay officers overtime during the holiday season. The state received nearly $400,000 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to fund the program.
“I look at a car as a weapon.” – Felix Roque
“People get really happy, and sad for that matter, around this time of the year. If you’re going to get drunk, just don’t get behind the wheel of a car,” he said, “because we’ll get you.”
Roque also said that if the Police Department requires additional funds in addition to the state’s grant, he would be happy to provide them.
“I’m a doctor, you know,” he said. “My first concern is health and safety, and I look at a car as a weapon. Our job in law enforcement is to save lives.
In West New York, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” began last Friday, Dec. 7, and did not take long to show its effectiveness. Around 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 8, officers arrested Javier Andujar, 49, for allegedly driving while intoxicated after they pulled him over for allegedly driving without his lights on.
Indri said that failure to turn lights on is a telltale sign of a problem. Others, he said, included swerving, speeding, and red lights. However, he pointed out that the direct opposite type of behavior could also alert officers to wrongdoing.
“A lot of times you see a car that’s going pretty slow, and perfectly in the middle of the lane, and that can be just as much an indicator,” he said.
Prevention and education
Indri said his department’s main goal is not to arrest drunk drivers, but to prevent drunk people from ever getting behind the wheel of a car.
“It’s a national problem, it happens all over the place, and it can be prevented so easily,” he said. “There are a number of ways to avoid driving drunk.”
The director advocated calling a friend, family member or taxi as safe alternatives to driving drunk.
“In all honesty, just call the Police Department if you have no other way of getting home,” he said. “I would rather assign an officer to go pick you up then file a report after having pulled you over.”
Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky echoed Indri’s statements, but also said that sober drivers could take steps to help law enforcement by dialing #77 on their cell phones to alert authorities to a suspicious driver.
“No one ever thinks that their holiday celebration will end in jail, or worse, in a hospital, or the morgue,” Poedubicky said in a press release. “For those who include alcohol in their celebrations and then get behind the wheel, this is often the case.”
In 2011, there were 152 fatalities in New Jersey which were directly attributed to impaired driving, nearly a quarter of all crash fatalities.
The program is set to conclude on Jan. 2, but that does not mean West New York’s police will be any less vigilant, said Indri.
“It’s not like on Jan. 3 we’re going to stop keeping an eye out,” he said. “My officers are aggressive and know what to look for.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org