Police to crack down on drunken drivers

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While most people watch the skies for fireworks, law enforcers will watch the roads for drunken drivers.

The Colorado State Patrol, the Routt County Sheriff's Office and the Steamboat Springs Police Department plan to increase patrols from today through Monday to watch for people driving under the influence of alcohol and behaving dangerously.

"Drunken driving is always more of a problem this weekend. You have more tourists, campers and more people in general, and everyone's having a good time, so we have to be extra watchful," Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said.

As the number of drunken drivers increases with the holidays, so does the peril of the roads. Nationwide, 41 percent of the fatal car crashes in 2002 involved alcohol.

Despite the sobering statistics, significant numbers of people continue to drive intoxicated. In 2003, for example, the Steamboat Springs Police Department arrested 184 people suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. Even worse, the number of drunken drivers seems to have increased recently, Trooper Brett Hilling said.

"Troopers have noticed a seeming spike in the number of DUI crashes," Hilling said, though he doesn't know why.

The increase is somewhat surprising, however, because Routt County used to have one of the lowest ratios of alcohol-related crashes to total crashes in the state, Hilling said.

Nevertheless, just in the past two weeks, Hilling investigated six car crashes and three of them were alcohol- or drug-related, he said.

And authorities don't expect that spike in drunken drivers to decrease over the Fourth of July weekend, so they plan to be vigilant. Although they do not anticipate having checkpoints, they will have extra troopers, deputies and police monitoring the roads watching for drunken drivers,

"Getting drunken drivers off the streets is a huge priority for us and always has been," Hilling said.

--To reach Kristin Bjornsen, call 879-1502

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