Safety officials say: Don't let Christmas celebration end in jail

Staff Writer
Donaldsonville Chief

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission reminds motorists that an arrest for driving while intoxicated in Louisiana often ends up with the driver spending the night, or at least a few hours, in jail.

"Spending the night behind bars is a sure way to put a damper on your holiday," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "In recent years, Louisiana's highway fatality rate has been going down, and we hope to continue that trend during the last days of this year. We believe that at least a part of the decline in deaths results from greater awareness among drivers of the dangers and consequences of driving under the influence."

Louisiana is participating in the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign during the holiday, which features increased police patrols and sobriety checkpoints. The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission has provided grants to almost 60 police and sheriffs' departments to increase activities, especially DWI and seat belt enforcement, during holiday periods.  Officers and deputies from many other law enforcement agencies across the state are voluntarily participating in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. The campaign is in effect through Jan. 1, 2013.

Last year in Louisiana, police made almost 30,000 DWI arrests. Alcohol was a factor in 41 percent of Louisiana fatal crashes in 2011 compared to 45 percent the previous year. Young adults are among those at greatest risk for driving impaired, and drivers killed in alcohol-related crashes are overwhelmingly males.

Louisiana laws provide significant penalties for impaired drivers, especially repeat offenders. One recent law imposes 15-day jail sentences on people caught driving while their licenses are suspended for a previous DWI violation. Another measure suspends for one-year licenses of suspects who refuse to take a blood alcohol concentration test. A 2008 law requires DWI offenders whose licenses are suspended to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles for one year, if they are granted a “hardship license.” Ignition interlocks prevent people who have alcohol in their system from starting their vehicles. A first-offense DWI arrest can cost a driver more than $1,000 in fines, court costs, attorneys’ fees and increased insurance premiums.