Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

News Year's Eve patrols, free rides aim to curtail alcohol deaths on Tampa Bay roads

As people celebrate New Year's tonight, extra police will patrol busy roads. Tow trucks will offer rides home to those too drunk to drive. Sober friends will take the wheel.

And if tonight proves to be like New Year's Eve of last year throughout the Tampa Bay area, our roads may be less deadly.

Because of all the extra enforcement, the free ride offers and awareness programs, several bay area cities said they haven't had fatal crashes on News Year's Eve in at least two years.

Tampa hasn't seen one in five years. St. Petersburg saw two alcohol-related crashes but no fatalities last New Year's Eve.

After a five-year rise, alcohol-related traffic deaths around New Year's dropped statewide last year, the Florida Highway Patrol reports — 19 people died in a 96-hour period in 2009, down from 26 in 2008.

Still, there are more cars on the road at holiday time. And abuse of prescription pills has become a much bigger problem. The recent decline in fatalities may be only fleeting.

"If people want to party and drink and drive," said Sgt. Art Rowand, a 26-year veteran of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, "they are going to do it."

Authorities are adjusting schedules, paying overtime and saturating the most dangerous roadways to prepare.

Hillsborough County kicked off the holiday weekend with a checkpoint on State Road 60 in Brandon on Thursday and will continue throughout the weekend with increased patrols tonight and Saturday night, said sheriff's Sgt. William Porter.

"New Year's Eve is a night where a lot of people will be celebrating," Porter said. "Any time a person makes a plan ahead of time and has a designated driver or taxi helps."

Half of Tampa's 13-member DUI squad will be working tonight, said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

"We are aggressive on DUI patrols 365 days a year," Davis said. "This is the same for us as any day in the year."

In Pasco, nine sheriff's deputies will join Rowand in monitoring drunken driving.

The New Port Richey Police Department isn't staffing extra officers for the evening but will have a command center with the Pasco Sheriff's Office at Main Street and U.S. 19.

Police Lt. Steve Kostas said the U.S. 19 corridor is where authorities have seen the most crashes in past years.

In addition to the stepped-up enforcement, several cab companies offer free rides home and AAA South offers its "Tow to Go" program, which dispatches tow trucks to take impaired drivers and their cars home for free. (Call 1-800-AAA-HELP.)

Local agencies credit such programs, along with extra police enforcement and better driver awareness, with helping address a persistent problem.

"It appears the free cab ride programs have helped reduce DUIs, in addition to more people planning ahead and paying for limos and cab services," said Sgt. Richard Harris of the Clearwater Police Department's traffic enforcement team.

Harris said another factor is helping in Clearwater during the holiday.

"I don't believe it is as dangerous to drive on New Year's Eve as it was in years past because Clearwater does not have the type bars that draw large party crowds as it did years ago," he said. "Most of the bars in Clearwater are the smaller, neighborhood-type bars."

Several authorities said drivers seem to be more aware of the consequences.

"There is an increased awareness of the penalties that come with a DUI arrest, including a night in jail and thousands of dollars in financial penalties," Harris said.

Brooksville police Chief George Turner agreed. Nonetheless, his department will spend about 15 percent of its overtime budget for increased enforcement over the holidays.

"There's always going to be those few who think they can have a few drinks and drive," Turner said. "A few can be too many."

Times staff writers Brittany Alana Davis and Erin Sullivan contributed to this report.

>>Fast facts

Need a ride home?

To avoid driving drunk tonight, you can call AAA's free "Tow to Go'' program, which will tow you home even if you aren't a member. Call toll-free 1-800-AAA-HELP (222-4357).

News Year's Eve patrols, free rides aim to curtail alcohol deaths on Tampa Bay roads 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 11:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Vending machines to give 100,000 free books to Florida kids

    Education

    FORT LAUDERDALE — Children in South Florida will soon be able to get free books from vending machines.

  2. Afraid of sharks in Florida? Flu, asteroids pose far greater risk

    Wildlife

    BOSTON — You might want a bigger boat, but you probably don't need better odds.

    FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2012 file photo, Captain Brett McBride places his hand on the snout of a great white shark while scientists collect blood, tissue samples and attach tracking devices on the research vessel Ocearch off the coast of Chatham, Mass. Before release, the nearly 15-foot, 2,292-pound shark was named Genie for famed shark researcher Eugenie Clark. Great white sharks are making their annual return to Cape Cod, rattling some boaters and beachgoers. Yet the chances of an attack resulting in serious injury or death are infinitesimally small. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File) BX302
  3. For starters: Rays lineup vs Orioles

    Blogs

     

  4. Pepin daughters to take on Mount Kilimanjaro

    Human Interest

    About seven years ago, Tom Pepin and his four daughters stood at 12,000 feet, overlooking the Colorado Rockies during an outward bound survival training mission.

    From left, Christina Pepin, Lauren Pepin (Tom’s Wife), Cassie Pepin, Allie Pepin, Bella Pepin and Tom Pepin take a break during an outward bound survival training mission in Colorado.
  5. Music, memories, friendships lend energy to 'Senior Prom'

    Aging

    RIVERVIEW — Mesmerizing music mixed with the mingling of friends to energize and engage a congregation of old souls Thursday (June 22).

    Louise Goff of Brandon does line dances during the annual Senior Prom hosted by Hillsborough County Aging Services at the Regent in Brandon.