Steamboat Springs More than 600 officers and troopers will be assigned to watch for drunken drivers across the state during Memorial Day weekend, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Travelers are likely to encounter sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols officers and troopers with a main focus on drunk drivers on their way to Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder and several other locations.
"We're not doing anything super special; we're concentrating on seat belts and we're going to hit the DUIs hard," said Art Fiebing, assistant chief at the Steamboat Springs Police Department. "We will have extra people working the swing shift, which is where most of the alcohol activities occur."
The swing shift takes place from about 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., with officers hitting the period from 9:30 p.m. on hard, Fiebing said. More than 260 drunken-driving arrests were made in Steamboat last year, he said.
The police department will have additional state patrol help, said Sgt. Duane Bradley of the Colorado State Patrol. A majority of the troopers in the area will be on saturation patrol, he said.
The CDOT is using Memorial Day to kick off a summer-long effort to combat alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the state as part of its "The Heat Is On" campaign. From June through September 1995, before the campaign was in place, 121 people died in alcohol-related crashes. Last year, there were just 68 deaths during the same time period.
"Anyone who drives drunk is an idiot," Fiebing said. "All the cops at all agencies are going to be real aggressive on DUIs. We're not against people having fun, we're against people who drink and drive and are dangerous to themselves and others."
In addition, seat belt laws will be strictly enforced this weekend as part of Buckle Up America Week Mobilization. Fines will range from $15 for an adult to more than $50 for children 16 and younger.
Police will be particularly challenged this weekend with visitor activity on the rise. The staff at the information center operated by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association is reporting an increase in activity thus far in May.
Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said phone volume this month has more than doubled over May 2000.
"The interest is out there," she said. "Our visitors center is up by 150 people in May."
Much of the traffic will include those heading to nearby state parks. Steamboat Lake State Park, which oversees Pearl Lake, is accepting campers on a first-come, first-serve basis. The park has generally been full by Saturday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend in past years, said Park Manager Ken Brink. But this year, he expects campsites to reach capacity sooner, most likely tonight.
"It's two things: the popularity is increasing and the camping loops in Sunrise Vista are not going to be open this weekend," Brink said. "In a nutshell, if you want to camp up here, come up as early as you can. (This) morning is the best."
Late Thursday, the Stagecoach State Recreation Area had 15 sites open for today and five for Saturday. It was fully booked for Sunday, clerk Catsey Heath said.
A better option may be Colorado State Forest, a state park, which has generally had open campsites during Memorial Day. A spokesperson said that even more space would be available this weekend with three campgrounds fully open.
None of the parks reported any special fire restrictions. The U.S. Forest Service also reported the fire danger for this weekend is low.
Know the law
An officer may request a blood, saliva or urine test; failure to cooperate results in a minimum one-year license revocation.
Persons convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI) must perform a minimum amount of "useful public service" and pay varying levels of fines.
The Department of Revenue shall revoke the driver's licenses of all persons who drive with a blood-alcohol content level of more than 0.10.
Colorado law requires children under age 4 and those who weigh less than 40 pounds to ride in car seats. Children ages 4 through 15 must be properly restrained in car seats, booster seats or seat belts. The law applies to children in the front and back seats, with a minimum fine of $56. All children younger than 16 must be properly secured in a car seat or seat belt.
Adult drivers and front-seat passengers are required to buckle up. The law is a secondary offense, meaning the driver must be stopped for another offense before receiving a ticket. The minimum fine is $17.