Kingston Township police officer Chuck Rauschkolb is gearing up for summer’s last hurrah.
Labor Day weekend, said Rauschkolb, is one of the year’s prime periods for vehicle and boat accidents. To reduce crashes — both on highways and waterways — he is working with state and municipal police and conservation officers to stage DUI checkpoints from Harveys Lake to Mountain Top, with stops planned for about nine municipalities in between.
“The bottom line here is we want everyone to get home safely,” Rauschkolb said.
Rauschkolb, coordinator for the crackdown, met with other law enforcement agencies Friday morning at the state-owned boat launch in Harveys Lake on Friday. A fireworks display over the water is scheduled for Sunday, and officials were getting a jump-start on establishing a presence for the imminent rush to the lake.
Officials expect an abundance of boaters to be on the water Monday, and waterways conservation officer John Cummings said he’s keeping an eye out for drunken driving’s seaborne sister offense: boating under the influence (BUI).
While open containers of alcohol are allowed on boats, penalties are the same for drivers or boat operators with blood-alcohol levels over .08 percent, Cummings said. Fines can reach up to $5,000 with loss of boat-operating privileges.
Of all the crashes in Harveys Lake this year, borough police Chief Charles Musial said, about 95 percent of them were alcohol-related.
Recent accident statistics are hard to calculate because some investigations are ongoing, said Luzerne County DUI coordinator Joe Swortz. Countywide, accidents from drunken driving in 2012 totaled 65 crashes, three of them fatal, Swortz said.
Statewide, statistics show a declining number of DUI offenses, falling from more than 56,000 in 2008 to fewer than 52,000 in 2011.
The nature of impaired driving is changing, Swortz said. Statistics show that alcohol-related crashes are down; however, more people disabled by medicines are being caught.
“The over-the-counter stuff is most deceptive,” Swortz said. He has noticed a trend among people of older generations driving with sleep aids in their systems. Too often, medicine users disregard the pill bottle labels and shun warnings against driving while they’re being used, Swortz said.
A single drink exponentially inhibits motor skills when mixed with some prescription or over-the-counter drugs, Swortz said. Alcohol levels matter very little when drugs are in the body, and charges for drugged driving can be as significant as for driving drunk, depending on the level of impairment.