This summer, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office has begun ramping up efforts to get drunk drivers off the road.
Sheriff Steve Harkins called drunk driving in the Wood River Valley “a big
Police departments throughout the valley made 136 drunk-driving arrests in 2017; in 2018, they made 181. Most of that increase came from arrests made by the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and the Ketchum Division of the Sheriff’s Office. According to Harkins, they made a total of 79 DUI arrests in 2017 and 117 in 2018. He said that about 80 DUI arrests have been made so far in 2019, already surpassing the 2017 number with four months of the year still left to go.
Harkins said it’s difficult to determine whether DUI arrests have increased due to more vigilant police patrols or to more people driving drunk.
Compared to other areas of the state, Blaine County has a fairly high rate of DUI arrests, according to Idaho State Police arrest figures. The rate here in 2018, at one arrest per 129 inhabitants, was higher than that of Ada County (Boise) with its one arrest per 291 people, Twin Falls County at one arrest per 278 people and Bonner County (which includes the resort town of Sandpoint) at one arrest per 225 people. However, it was somewhat lower than that of Valley County (which includes the resort town of McCall) at one arrest per 111 people.
Harkins attributed the high number of DUI arrests in Blaine County to several factors, including a strong economy and tourism industry in the valley as well as a lack of transportation options for those leaving bars in Ketchum and looking for a safe ride home.
In Ketchum, the last Mountain Rides bus leaves downtown during peak seasons just before 2 a.m., when the bars close, but the route does not extend south of Ketchum, meaning the only option for those living outside Ketchum is a designated driver, taxi or Uber.
As for the increase in arrests, Harkins attributes the rise to good morale in patrol officers and a well-trained force that knows what red flags to look for on the roads.
The Sheriff’s Office began its ramped-up DUI enforcement program several weeks ago, by offering overtime to deputies who want to pick up shifts for DUI enforcement patrols. The extra shifts can be taken up at any time of the day, any day of the week, and give deputies the discretion to focus solely on DUI enforcement, rather than having to respond to calls that come from dispatch, unless it’s an “all hands on deck” situation. While this is not the first time the Sheriff’s Office has had deputies specifically out looking for impaired drivers, it is being heightened currently thanks to money in the budget for overtime.
With a $14,000 grant from the state, the Sheriff’s Office has also been able to buy roadside breath-test equipment, giving deputies more tools to see if a driver is impaired without having to transport him or her to the county jail to test levels of intoxication, allowing for faster results and for deputies to get back on patrol sooner.
Educational efforts are being made via social media, imploring Facebook users who have liked the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page to not drive under the influence, to create a plan prior to drinking on how to get home and to have a designated driver in the group. Beyond that, Harkins said he is working with businesses and bar owners throughout the valley to provide more TIPS—Training for Intervention Procedures—a program that trains those serving alcohol. The program is designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunk driving. While it is currently offered annually, more trainings could better train bartenders and caterers about the dangers of overserving.
“People know this is not the town to drive drunk in. There’s one way in and one way out. But they still do,” Fruehling said.
Just this year, at least five fatalities are suspected to be attributed to drunk drivers, and one rollover accident that did not result in a fatality involved a drunk driver behind the wheel.