OLYMPIA— Starting Friday, five extra police officers will scour the roads of Clark County each night to bring drunken drivers to a halt.
The day marks the start of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s annual two-week statewide program targeting intoxicated drivers. It lasts through July 4.
The rate of DUIs throughout the state spikes each summer, peaking in June and July, commission officials said.
Patrols are authorized to work from 4 p.m. into the early hours of the morning. Instead of probing DUI hot spots, the patrols will move around on roads throughout the whole county, said Marion Swendsen, a commission spokeswoman for Clark County.
“It’s countywide, making sure we cover all streets and roads as much as possible,” Swendsen said. “We aren’t going to focus on one specific area.”
There has been a downward trend in fatal and serious traffic accidents throughout the nation over the past half-decade, said Angie Ward, the manager of the program.
From 2005 to 2009, traffic deaths in Clark County dropped from 32 to 14. During that period, serious traffic-related injuries in the county declined from 166 to 142. The most recent numbers also show Clark County’s traffic fatality rate is lower than the state average.
A serious injury is defined as “any injury other than a fatal injury that prevents the injured person from walking, driving or normally continuing the activities the person was capable of performing before the injury occurred,” according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Ward said it is uncertain exactly why the traffic fatality rate has declined and how much of a role programs like hers have played in that trend.
“We hope that it’s a combination of things,” she said. “It takes a long time to change a social norm.”
Ward credits enhanced car and road safety, along with enforcement campaigns, for bringing the fatal accident rate down.
The purpose of the program is not to catch drivers off guard, but rather to encourage them to arrange plans for a safe ride home after going out drinking, Ward said.
“If you’re going to be out drinking, we want them to choose their ride,” she said. “We don’t want them to be in the back of a police car.”
A federal grant of about $150,000 pays for the program this year. About $15,000 of that goes to the extra Clark County patrols. The grant comes from a portion of gas taxes charged to each state.