(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Arlington residents can expect to see an unusual car on the streets through the holiday season, reminding of the dangers of drunk driving.
The Arlington County Police Department partnered with Red Top Cab and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) in the unveiling of a vehicle that’s half police car and half taxicab. The vehicle has been nicknamed the “Chooser Cruiser” because it reminds people that they have choices for getting home after drinking — in the back of a taxi or in the back of a police car.
“We are very excited to present yet another reminder of the choice people have before taking to the roads if alcohol is part of their celebration,” said Red Top Cab Chief Operating Officer Wayne Miller.
As part of the public/private initiative, Red Top donated the former taxi, which has more than 396,000 miles on it, and paid for its makeover. ACPD donated the lights on top which had previously been a former police cruiser, and will be responsible for positioning the vehicle throughout the county. Both organizations emphasize that due to the donations, the vehicle was of practically no cost to taxpayers.
The car’s unveiling (which was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy) comes just in time for the holiday season. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25 percent of all drunk driving deaths in the U.S. occur in December. The holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Eve see a 40 percent and 60 percent spike in alcohol related traffic deaths, respectively.
“The holiday season is a particularly dangerous time,” said ACPD Chief M. Douglas Scott. “We’re doing everything we can to both identify and apprehend impaired drivers.”
Chief Scott noted that penalties for first time drunk driving offenders include up to a $2,500 fine, a jail term of up to one year and/or the suspension of the offender’s drivers license for up to one year.
Neal Nichols, President of Red Top Cab, handed over the vehicle’s keys to Chief Scott at the unveiling ceremony.
“This retired Red Top Cab spent some of its time already taking people home who had overindulged,” Nichols said. “Let’s hope that this Chooser Cruiser will cause people to think twice and will save lives.”
Arlington is the first area in the D.C. metro to take part in this pilot program. The Chooser Cruiser will be stationed at various points around the county through the new year. It will be used in conjunction with regularly scheduled sobriety checkpoints.
“Hopefully it will change behavior. Even if it changes the behavior of one individual, it can be deemed a success,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “Drunk driving is one of the rare public health issues that is 100% preventable.”
On the front of the car are all the badges for the D.C. metro area’s supporting law enforcement agencies. The back features the number to call for a free lift from SoberRide, a service that has provided nearly 56,000 free rides since 1993.
Starting on December 14 and running through January 1, local residents age 21 and older can call SoberRide for a free trip home, up to a $30 fare. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., residents can call 1-800-200-TAXI (8294), and AT&T customers can text #WRAP. One of these methods must be used to get the free ride, because calling individual cab companies directly will result in normal cab fares. More information about the program is available online.
All vehicles that pass through the checkpoint will be stopped and drivers asked to provide licenses. Any drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or other substances will be ushered to a safe area nearby for further observation and possible testing. The checkpoint location will not be revealed ahead of time.
The checkpoint is part of the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, in support of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-led crackdown on drunk driving. The program combines high-visibility DUI enforcement with public awareness to deter intoxicated individuals from getting behind the wheel.
Virginia’s maximum penalty for the first conviction for driving under the influence is 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine and the suspension of driving privileges for 12 months.
This week’s Arlington County crime report includes several cases that may serve as important lessons for criminals. For instance, if you’re going to (allegedly) shoplift from The Gap, leave the 16 bags of cocaine at home.
POSSESSION WITH INTENT TO DISTRIBUTE (COCAINE), 02/10/12, 1100 block of S. Hayes Street. At 3:15 pm on February 10, a subject entered The Gap clothing store and placed items in a bag and left the store without paying. Store security detained the suspect for shoplifting. Upon arrival of officers, a further search of the suspect was conducted and a sandwich bag with 16 smaller bags of cocaine were located. Andreus Womack, 19, of Washington, D.C. was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute and petit larceny.
Also, if you’re going to (allegedly) steal a car, do so before getting drunk.
GRAND LARCENY OF AUTO (RECOVERED), 02/14/12, 300 block of S. 23rd Street. At 2:50 am on February 14, officers spotted a stolen vehicle that was being driven erratically and activated the emergency lights. The driver attempted to speed away, but struck a concrete column and fled the scene on foot through a parking garage. Officers apprehended Joseph Bennett, 45, of no fixed address, and he was charged with grand larceny of an auto, driving under the influence, hit and run, refusal and driving on a suspended license.
Finally, if you’re going to (allegedly) try to stab a CVS employee with scissors, make sure you have a better getaway vehicle than Metro.
ATTEMPTED MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 02/12/12, 2100 block of N. 15th Street. On February 12 at approximately 5:30 pm, a suspect entered a store and tried to stab a store employee with a pair of scissors after being asked to leave. The suspect was located by officers in the Metro station, refused to obey police commands and continuously attempted to assault the arresting officers. A credit card and cell phone not belonging to the suspect were located during a search. Dana Brown, 28, of Landover, MD was charged with with assault and attempted malicious wounding.
As always, all suspects are innocent until proven guilty. The rest of this week’s crime report, after the jump.
The nationwide law enforcement and public outreach initiative — with the tagline “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest” — will spend more than $7 million on national TV and radio advertising starting Wednesday. It seeks to reduce the number of drunk driving crashes around the holidays. Last year, 753 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes during the month of December alone.
Today LaHood highlighted the new “No Refusal” strategy that a number of states are adopting. “No Refusal” allows police officers to quickly obtain warrants from on-call judges in order to get blood samples from suspects who refuse to take a breathalyzer test.
“Drunk driving remains a leading cause of death and injury on our roadways,” LaHood said in a statement. “I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement officials who have pioneered the ‘No Refusal’ approach to get drunk drivers off our roads.”
LaHood was joined by National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland and Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Laura Dean-Mooney at a press conference at the Arlington County Jail. A number of law enforcement officials from around the country were also present at the event, which kicked off at 10:30 this morning.
Virginia has a form of the “No Refusal” strategy currently in place. The state’s “implied consent” law calls for a drivers’ license to be suspended if he or she refuses to take a chemical test when stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated on a state road.
Together with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police, Arlington Police will set up a DUI checkpoint at an undisclosed location in the county. All cars passing through the checkpoint will be stopped, and drivers suspected of operating a vehicle while intoxicated will be asked to pull to the side to perform further sobriety testing.
In addition to the checkpoint, police say they will be adding extra DUI saturation patrols for the remainder of the holiday season.
In Virginia, the maximum penalty for a first DUI conviction is 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine and a 12-month suspension of driving privileges.
The Arlington County Police Department says it will have extra DUI patrols on hand for St. Patrick’s Day next week. The department also announced that it will conduct a sobriety checkpoint at an as-yet undisclosed location in the county.
According to federal statistics, as many as 37 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes on St. Patrick’s Day had a blood alcohol content of at least .08, above the legal limit.
“For many Americans, St. Patrick’s Day has become a popular night out to celebrate with friends and family,” Arlington police said in a statement. “Unfortunately, due to the large number of drunk drivers, the night out has also become very dangerous.”
An Arlington police officer was sent to the hospital after his parked cruiser was struck by a suspected drunk driver.
The officer was on a traffic detail on the 1700 block of N. Glebe Road at 2:00 a.m. this morning when a car slammed into his cruiser. Luis Alonso Argueta-Amaya, 23, of Woodbridge was arrested a few blocks away and charged with DWI and Felony Hit and Run.
The officer is expected to make a full recovery, according to NBC4.
Statewide, Virginia State Police responded to calls for 1,713 traffic accidents and 1,699 stranded vehicle. According to the Washington Post:
The state police’s Fairfax Division alone responded to 681 calls for service, including 435 disabled vehicles and 121 traffic crashes.
Meanwhile, the State Police are warning people driving to bars and parties for the Super Bowl to be careful on the roads.
“Drivers need to weigh the risks when deciding if attending a Super Bowl party is really worth a crash or getting stuck,” said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Our greatest concern is what road conditions will be like following the game as temperatures drop and wet, slushy roadways turn icy.”
“No matter what road and weather conditions may be like Sunday, the most important decision individuals must make is to not drink and drive,” said Colonel Flaherty. “Driving impaired with slick road conditions is not just dangerous, but deadly for everyone.”
Some Super Bowls do’s and don’ts from the VSP after the jump.