Police expanding net for drunken drivers

After arresting more than 100 suspected drunken drivers in San Francisco and San Mateo counties last weekend, the California Highway Patrol and local police agencies throughout the Bay Area are stepping up patrols starting tonight and adding several checkpoints to catch inebriated drivers.

During the next two weekends, police said, officers will be patrolling the streets and freeways in San Francisco and the county as part of the AVOID anti-DUI program, sponsored by the California Office of Traffic Safety. The program, started in 1973 and funded by federal grants, is implemented during major holidays throughout the year.

The program started a week ago and will run through midnight on New Year’s Day. Scheduled checkpoints will be set up next weekend in central and southern San Mateo County, but there will be no checkpoints in San Francisco, only increased patrol during the next two weekends, according to police.

As of Tuesday, the crackdown led to 45 arrests in San Francisco and as of Wednesday, 94 were arrested in the county. There were no fatalities connected to drunken drivers. In 2006, 14 people were killed and 376 injured in alcohol-related crashes in San Francisco, according to California Highway Patrol data.

Last Saturday, California Highway Patrol and the San Francisco Police Department set up a checkpoint near the Moscone Center and caught four allegedly drunken drivers. San Francisco police Sgt. Jan Ford, spokesperson for The City’s AVOID program, said checkpoints serve mostly to educate the public and that the bulk of arrests is made by patrols early in the evening.

Daly City police Sgt. Dave Mackriss, who has been working nights to catch drunken drivers, said he looks for any abnormalities in driving, such as weaving, driving too quickly or too slowly, or something as obvious as having high-beam lights on.

“We look for signs of indecision on the road, almost like they are lost, and last-minute decisions,” Mackriss said. “Are they braking for the red light like they just found out it’s on or falling asleep when it’s green? That’s what we look at.”

According to Ford, San Francisco is especially dangerous to be driving under the influence.

“This is very much a crowded city with narrow, winding streets,” Ford said. “I know some people who won’t drive in San Francisco when they are stone-cold sober, and you can imagine how bad it can become when you’re drinking alcohol.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com  

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