AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nationally, the night before Thanksgiving is one of the worst for driving while intoxicated or under the influence of substances.
As some Austinites head downtown to bars tonight to ring in the holidays, the Austin Transportation Department and Austin Police Department have ramped up efforts to curtail drinking-related crashes.
Beginning Nov. 18 and running through Nov. 28, the No Refusal Initiative will operate from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day. Under the program, APD officers can access blood search warrants for drivers suspected of impaired driving who refuse to provide either a breath or blood sample, per APD.
Between Nov. 18 and Wednesday, 49 people have been arrested for drunk driving, said APD’s Detective Jason Day. The 10-day holiday push will continue through this weekend.
The program has traditionally run during the holidays and special events, but is now in effect four days a week this fiscal year following increased budget funding, a representative for ATD said.
“What we’re hoping with that is that not only that it increases prosecutions, but hopefully it serves as a deterrent,” he said. “Because that’s really our ultimate goal is just to keep people safe, and to make them think again about drinking and driving. Because there are the additional consequences.”
And that comes at a critical time, said Joel Meyer, program manager of Austin’s Vision Zero program. As of the end of September, 24 pedestrians have been killed in Austin traffic crashes this year, marking 27% of all traffic fatalities on city roads.
The main culprits behind serious and fatal crashes in Austin, Meyer said, include distracted driving, impaired driving, failure to yield and speeding. All of these factors tend to see upticks during the holidays, he said.
“The behaviors this time of year are a little more pronounced in terms of those dangerous driving behaviors,” Meyer said. “We really try to stress to both longtime Austin residents and newcomers the importance of slowing down, really looking out for each other, doing small things like putting your phone down, making sure your headlights are on — these are all really small things that we can all do to have a big impact.”
At the crux of the Vision Zero program, ATD officials have worked toward a goal of zero traffic fatalities in Austin. Infrastructural changes ATD has made alongside the No Refusal Initiative include:
- Enhanced street lighting citywide
- Reflective continental crosswalks with glass beads for increased visibility
- Leading pedestrian intervals that “give pedestrians a head start into the crosswalk before vehicles are given a green light,” per an ATD news release
While transportation-related upgrades have been made or are in the works, Meyer said it also comes down to behavioral changes drivers make to create long-term changes in traffic crash patterns.
To assist with drivers’ decision making after a night of drinking, the city of Austin has implemented a parking citation dismissal form. For those who leave their car parked overnight and seek out an alternate ride home, the dismissal acts as a waiver for any parking tickets or related citations they might receive.
At the end of the night, Meyer said he hopes more people take the time to find that safe ride home, minimizing the need for blood search warrants.
“We really need to make sure that we’re supplementing those countermeasures with campaigns around safe behaviors,” he said. “So we really view this as a shared responsibility between the system designers, the road users themselves and policy makers.”