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Hawaii law enforcement steps up sobriety checkpoints as U.S. grapples with highest traffic deaths in 15 years

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Police officers in Hawaii began putting up more impaired driver checkpoints for Halloween, and will continue enhanced enforcement through the rest of this year —which in the first half saw estimated traffic deaths nationwide climb to their highest level in 15 years.

The Honolulu Police Department said it will set up impaired driver checkpoints at unannounced times and locations from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 as part of the department’s ongoing efforts to reduce the number of traffic injuries and deaths.

Honolulu police officers already had been conducting impaired driver checkpoints every week from September 2021 and will continue to do so through September 2022 as part of the federal “52/12” sobriety checkpoint program, which means that there will be a minimum of 52 sobriety checkpoints in the 12-month fiscal year.

On Friday, the Maui Police Department – Traffic Division began enforcing a zero-tolerance response to impaired driving. Police said the public can expect saturation patrols where there is a noticeable increase in traffic enforcement to include impaired driving checkpoints.

Maui police said they have made 478 impaired driving arrests (which include 20 habitual impaired driving arrests), compared to 417 impaired driving arrests this same time last year. This year alone, Maui police said impaired driving arrests in Maui County have increased by 15%. At the same time, police said Maui County has seen a 1333% increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2021, with 64% being attributed to both speeding and impaired drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday released new data estimating that traffic fatalities in the first half of 2021 were the highest they have been since 2006. NHTSA said the rise in traffic deaths is the largest six-month increase in the history of NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Preliminary estimates from NHTSA show that 20,160 people died on America’s roads through June 2021, an 18.4% increase over 2019, due in large part to speeding, impaired driving and not wearing seatbelts.

Alex Otte, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) which represents 1 million victims of drunk and drugged driving, said in a statement, “This nightmare on our roads needs to stop.”

“Traffic safety enforcement has been cut and we are seeing the horrific consequences,” Otte said. “A shortage of officers has resulted in the elimination of DUI task forces in some cities.”

MADD said drunk driving is the No. 1 killer on our nation’s roads, and recent NHTSA studies show an increase in the presence of other drugs in drivers who are tested. In 2019, the most recent FARS data available, 10,142 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.

“Behind every one of these tragedies are families left with shattered lives,” Otte said. “As we head into the holiday season when roads get even busier, we are begging drivers to slow down, make sure they and their passengers are wearing a seatbelt, or using a child safety seat, and please, never drive while impaired by alcohol or other drugs.”

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