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Drunk Drivers on the Radar

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough and Township are currently involved in a two-and-a-half week "heightened alert" period targeting drunk drivers.

The additional enforcement anticipates an increase in drunk driving incidents coinciding with the Labor Day weekend.

Both municipalities are using $4,000 state grants to devote, on average, an additional two patrol cars to monitor erratic driving patterns. Since the program began August 19, Princeton Borough Police have made four arrests using the additional enforcement tactics.

"We take this seriously and we want to prevent drivers from driving drunk," said Lt. Dennis McManimon of the Borough Police Department, adding that the Borough had over 100 DWI arrests in 2004.

The program is facilitated by fees collected from fines incurred by those convicted of DWIs in municipal court. "Some of that money comes back to the municipality in the form of DWI funds, so we get money for certain weekends throughout the year," Lt. McManimon said.

The crackdown is part of a nation-wide campaign looking to curb alcohol-related traffic accidents, which kill 18,000 drivers yearly. In New Jersey, 39 percent of auto fatalities are alcohol-related, according to Sgt. Thomas Murray of the Township Police Department.

"We're going to step up the regular level of activity," he said, but added that checkpoints, which are common in some state police-led campaigns, will not be part of the holiday weekend's additional enforcement. "We don't have the manpower."

However, he said he "hoped" the additional presence would act as a deterrent rather than creating multiple arrest scenarios.

"Basically, this program is as visible as possible, and the reason is to deter DWI arrests before they occur," Sgt. Murray said, adding that the campaign is modeled on the "Click It or Ticket" program that enforces seat belt use.

"People know now that if you don't buckle up, you will encounter a patrol officer who will make a stop and enforce it," he said.

"Obviously it's going to be pro-active patrol instead of someone sitting at a light." Sgt. Murray added that he would not "rule out" the possibility of foot -patrol officers manning high-volume intersections. Both Lt. McManimon and Sgt. Murray said Princeton is often vulnerable to drunk drivers because of the central location of the municipalities and their proximity to major throughways. Higher levels of DWIs surface on roads like Route 206 in the Township, but artery roads in the Borough are also susceptible, Lt. McManimon said.

Under training for the drunk driving program, officers attend a week-long course conducted by the New Jersey State Police, where signs of impaired driving are highlighted.

"They tell you what to look for in an impaired driver," Lt. McManimon said, but added that the training is used more for "big-time drinkers" who might be able to hide their impairment. "It just raises the whole level of awareness."

Both departments are urging drivers to use designated drivers, mass transit, or to consider spending the night at a social function.


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