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Use of designated drivers encouraged at holiday celebrations

To all of the holiday messages offered this time of year, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office adds this postscript:

“If you’re planning on consuming alcohol ... pre-plan and find a designated driver,” said Chief Scott Joslyn of the Patrol Services Division. “It’s your responsibility.”

’Tis the season for law enforcement agencies to schedule patrols specifically targeting impaired drivers.

Over at the Sheriff’s Office, which patrols 16 towns and four villages, extra patrols began last Friday.

“What we look for are violations of the vehicle and traffic law,” Joslyn said. ”It could be as simple as failing to signal your intention to turn, as extreme as failure to maintain your lane of travel – off to the right, off to the left.”

Yet the seasonal spike in the number of drunken driving arrests begins even earlier, Joslyn observed. In 2013, for example, there were 56 arrests between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, he said.

“We make quite a few arrests during that period of time. Those are because of the social gatherings,” Joslyn said.

New York State Police announced earlier this month that troopers again are participating in “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” a national campaign that began Dec. 12 and continues through Jan. 1. It features sobriety checkpoints with more troopers along major highways, as well as troopers in unmarked patrol vehicles.

“We want everyone to have a happy holiday, but we also want you to have a safe one,” Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said in a statement. “Impaired drivers cause needless deaths and injuries. Have a plan and you could save a life – maybe even your own.”

The Sheriff’s Office is vigilant about getting drunken drivers off the road year-round, noting the cumulative number after each DWI arrest in news releases to the media. There have been 260 as of Tuesday, Joslyn noted; last year’s total was about 350.

“We are down,” Joslyn said. “That’s not because we have less manpower or it’s not a priority ... I like to think that the message is making it out there.”

Also down is the overall number of traffic fatalities investigated by the Sheriff’s Office, from between 10 to 12 a year to four as of Tuesday.

Through the years, Joslyn said, he’s spent a good amount of time talking to young drivers about horrific crash scenes which he investigated. He’s also made more than his share of those “notification” visits to homes, where he has to break the news to families about traffic fatalities.

“It’s sad any time of the year,” Joslyn said. “It’s compounded when it’s around the holidays.”