As the first holiday weekend of the summer kicks off Friday, law enforcement agencies are amping up to keep people safe on the highways and waterways.
The newly formed Water Rescue and Enforcement Team of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will be targeting intoxicated boaters as it patrols the Slackwater Harbor area, Regional Park, Island Harbor and St. Marie Park.
“Depending on the size of the crowds, they will probably spend a lot of time around Regional Park but we will also be checking Island Harbor and St. Marie Park,” sheriff’s department Operations Commander Major Lafayette Woods Jr. said. “We traditionally don’t get a big crowd at St. Marie but we’re going to pay attention to it, too.”
He said the new unit is made up of one full-time deputy and two reserve deputies, and will respond to any water rescue or drowning reported in the county, as well as assisting in searching for evidence if needed.
“They’re fully equipped with diving equipment, underwater cameras, the whole shooting match, and it was all paid for with a grant,” Woods said.
While those deputies concentrate on the water, other deputies will join the Arkansas State Police and local police departments for the national “Click It or Ticket” seat belt enforcement campaign, which runs through June 2.
“As we kick off the busy summer driving season, it’s important that everyone buckle up on every trip, every time, both day and night — no excuses,” said Col. Stan Witt, director of the Arkansas State Police and Governor’s Highway safety Representative. “Our troopers are committed to this lifesaving initiative and prepared to ticket anyone not wearing their seat belt.”
Woods said statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that a total of 396 people who died in traffic accidents in Arkansas in 2011 were determined to be unrestrained (in the case of infants) or not wearing seat belts.
“Seat belts can save thousands of lives every year but far too many motorists are still not buckling up, especially at night when the risk of a crash is even greater,” Witt said. “We want everyone to have a safe summer but it requires an important step on the part of motorists, clicking the seat belt.”
In addition to enforcing seat-belt laws, Woods said deputies will be paying particular attention to impaired drivers, those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Sheriff’s department statistics indicated that deputies arrested 47 people for DWI in May 2012, 24 more than in 2011.
“The alarming number of motor=vehicle fatalities on state roads in past years involving unbelted victims along with the increase in arrests for DWI and other traffic infractions indicate the need for campaigns such as ‘Click It or Ticket,’ ” Woods said. “Through this national joint enforcement effort, our agency will focus in particular on educating travelers. Motorists who don’t use restraints are at greatest risk of injury or death.”
Witt said that national highway traffic safety figures indicated that seat belts saved an estimated 11,949 lives in 2011.
“While this year’s Click It or Ticket enforcement mobilization runs from May 20 to June 2, officers are enforcing seat belt laws year round,” Witt said.