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Holiday drinking can have sobering consequences
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PINELLAS COUNTY – Although the Christmas and New Year holidays aren’t the worse for DUI incidents, law enforcement officials are still urging people to not drink and drive.

Sgt. Jim Bordner with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Public Information Office said the two largest winter holidays weren’t as big of a problem for law enforcement as compared to Memorial Day, which has the worst statistics related to drunk driving, primarily due to more people planning ahead before attending functions where alcohol will be served.

He said the biggest problems usually come in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve when people stop off with co-workers for happy hour or attend office parties where they unintentionally drink more than they thought they would and have no designated driver.

For the big parties, people who plan to drink take steps ahead of time to get home safely, he said.

“People realize law enforcement will be out there and plan ahead,” Bordner said. “They designate a driver, rent a limo, take a taxi or use Tow to Go, and that’s what we want to see.”

Tow to Go is a service of AAA Auto Club South and Budweiser that provides a free tow and ride home to people who drink more than they should at a public establishment – bar or restaurant.

Gregg Laskoski, managing director of public relations at AAA Auto Club South, said since 1998, Tow to Go has kept more than 7,000 drunk drivers off the roads during holiday seasons. The program is available statewide in Florida and certain metropolitan areas in Georgia and Tennessee.

“It’s been in effect since Thanksgiving and will continue through New Year’s Day,” he said.

He said the program not only keeps drunk drivers safe, it also protects motorists that could be hurt or killed if a drunk driver has an accident.

“There’s no reason anyone has to take a chance and drive impaired,” he said.

People don’t have to be a member of AAA Auto Club South to use the service. Anyone can call 1-800-AAA-HELP and a tow truck will be dispatched to provide a confidential ride home and tow, free of charge.

Bordner said the Tow of Go program was a good alternative for people who find themselves in a situation where they’ve had too much to drink.

“You definitely don’t want to use our (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office) Tow to Go program,” he said. “We’ll impound your vehicle and put you in jail.”

Both Bordner and Laskoski urged people giving parties in their homes to be responsible. Laskoski said non-alcoholic beverages should be served, as well as plenty of food. He said people should not be afraid to take a person’s car keys and call them a taxi if there’s any chance they would be an impaired driver.

Bordner also reminded party-givers of the liability involved if a person leaves a party at their home intoxicated and gets involved in a crash. He said the party host could end up in a lawsuit.

But the more sobering fact is the serious consequences of driving drunk.

“Getting arrested for DUI is not the worst thing that could happen,” Bordner said. “Being charged with DUI manslaughter and being responsible for someone’s death or serious injuries is the worst.”

Local and state law enforcement is on the roads this holiday season watching for impaired drivers and will continue patrols throughout the season and beyond.

For law enforcement, the holidays aren’t the only time drunk drivers are a problem. The Sheriff’s Office has a squad dedicated full time to DUI patrols, plus ongoing wolf pack events and sobriety checkpoints.

“We’re out there for a good reason,” Bordner said. “Our goal is not to boost our statistics or any other than to keep the public safe. We sure don’t want to spend Christmas delivering a death notice to someone’s family.”
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