As football fans across Santa Barbara County stock up on their favorite intoxicants in preparation for Super Bowl XLII this Sunday, county law enforcement agencies are polishing their breathalyzers, waiting for those brazen enough to drive buzzed.
In an effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related injuries and fatalities associated with drunk driving on this holiest of Sundays – for football fans, at least – the 12 law enforcement agencies of Santa Barbara County will team up to saturate the streets with patrols.
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Dept. Deputy Win Smith said that increased enforcement includes task forces trained to spot signs of an intoxicated driver.
“There are a number of telltale signs of a drunk driver such as inability to maintain lane position within one lane or on to another, failure to go on green and making under-steering or over-steering errors,” Smith said.
In addition to these problems, Smith said police officers will also take note of cars that have wide variations in speed for no apparent reason, have violations of vehicle code, or have recently incurred a significant driving violation.
This weekend’s effort is part of the “Avoid” program, a state-funded initiative that started in 1973 in Santa Clara County, according to the program’s Web site, www.californiaavoid.org. Since its inception, the program has grown to cover most counties in California, including Santa Barbara, which began “Avoid the 12” in 2005.
According to “Avoid the 12” spokeswoman Jan Ford, the program seeks to reduce the number of drunk driving accidents in two ways.
“Our purpose is to reduce the number of alcohol related injuries and fatalities, and we do that through public education and increased enforcement,” Ford said.
Even though the Super Bowl does not attract as much attention from police officers as holidays like New Year’s Eve, the event does present a statistically riskier driving environment. According to the Sheriff’s Dept., 9 percent more people are hurt in alcohol-related crashes on Super Bowl Sunday than in alcohol-related crashes on an average Sunday. Ford said she believes it is easier to get drunk and not realize it when casually drinking with friends.
“A lot of people have Super Bowl parties, and in the company of your friends, watching the game, it’s easy to forget how much you have [consumed],” Ford said.
Sheriff’s Dept. spokesman Sgt. Alex Tipolt also said the host of a Super Bowl party is potentially liable if a guest is in an alcohol-related crash. In order to prevent this from happening, Ford said that hosts should pay more attention to their guests’ alcohol intake.
“Its such a good idea to monitor the amount of alcohol your friends are drinking,” Ford said. “Don’t have an unending supply of alcohol, and serve heavy food, not just potato chips.”
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. expects this Super Bowl Sunday’s program to prove quite effective, as preventive measures were successful in previous years. Although the officers are unable to watch the game, Smith said protecting the community takes priority.
“We’ll just tape it,” Smith said.