Archive for Sunday, June 22, 2003

Media events part of anti-DUI effort

June 22, 2003


— Sherriene Jones walked the thin line of tape well enough, and counted by thousands to 31-thousand in a half-minute. Still, her eyes gave her away as she tried to watch an officer's moving pen.

Despite her 0.092 percent blood-alcohol level -- the legal limit is 0.08 percent -- she wasn't in trouble with the law, because the law was getting her drunk. The KSNT-TV reporter was participating in a state-sponsored exercise similar to training for Kansas Highway Patrol troopers.

State officials plan another six such events for reporters next week, part of their campaign to combat drunken driving. They're also planning checkpoints for drivers, and a new law should result in more drunken drivers having their cars impounded.

Although laws against drunken drivers have grown tougher, the battle against DUI continues in earnest.

"We continue to see a large number of people dying in alcohol-related accidents," said Patrol Lt. John Eichkorn.

Last year, law enforcement officers arrested 21,800 people for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, about 200 fewer than in 2001.

Of the 511 people killed in Kansas traffic accidents last year, 102 of them -- 20 percent, or one in every five -- died in an alcohol-related incident, according to the Department of Transportation, which compiles traffic safety statistics.

This year, two legislators have faced drunken-driving charges, Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, and Sen. Ed Pugh, R-Wamego. Pugh agreed to seek alcohol treatment under an agreement in which a criminal charge was dropped. Oleen's case is set for trial on Oct. 28 in Shawnee County District Court. Both are first-time offenders.

KDOT and the Patrol are planning 21 sobriety checkpoints statewide from June 27 through July 13 and expect another 80 law enforcement agencies to set up their own.

The Kansas Highway Patrol will participate in a nationwide crackdown on drunken drivers later this month.From June 27 to July 13 troopers and other law enforcement agencies will be setting up sobriety checkpoints and aggressively patrolling highways, looking for signs of alcohol- or drug-impaired drivers."Our message is simple: If you drink and drive, you lose," said Patrol Lt. Col. Terry Maple.To report impaired drivers, cell phone users can call *47 to the Highway Patrol.

Jones, the television reporter, and three other media representatives participated in the drinking event, imbibing in Coors Lights or Skyy Blue, a citrus malt beverage.

One point of the exercise was to see how easy it was to get impaired. The participants started feeling lightheaded and unable to drive even before they reached the 0.08 legal limit.

Jones had one beer and four cereal malt beverages before becoming legally intoxicated.

The participants went through standard field sobriety tests, including walking the line of tape and holding a foot six inches off the ground while counting by thousands.

In both cases, the tests offer numerous ways to judge a person's sobriety. It's more than staying on the line, for example, but also how well a person follows directions and whether they have to hold their arms out for balance.

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