FAIRMONT - 'Tis the season to tie one on, some may say. Just as long as you don't plan to get behind the wheel afterward.
Area law enforcement agencies will be on the lookout for impaired drivers this month as part of another statewide Safe and Sober campaign.
Fairmont police, the Martin County Sheriff's Office and Truman police will participate, along with police and deputies in Faribault County.
"We applied for a Toward Zero Deaths grant, and we received a two-year grant of $15,000 combined for [the] Faribault County Sheriff's Office, Blue Earth police, Elmore police, Minnesota Lake police and Winnebago," said Winnebago policeman Mike Beletti.
"There is a joint powers agreement that allows us to pool our resources," said Fairmont policeman Craig Fowler, who is in charge of the Safe and Sober campaign in Martin County. "During these enforcements, I'm not restricted to the Fairmont city limits, and we work with the Sheriff's Office, Truman police, and now we can work together with Faribault County agencies."
For the Safe and Sober operation targeting impaired drivers, expect to see saturations during upcoming weekends.
"Especially with the holidays, a lot of people are drinking, and we don't want memories of the holidays to be of when a loved one was killed in a senseless act," Fowler said.
In 2011, there were 136 alcohol-related traffic deaths, accounting for 37 percent of all traffic deaths. From 2009-2011, of 1,200 traffic deaths, 408 (or 34 percent) were alcohol-related.
In Martin County, there were 10 vehicle crash fatalities from 2009-2011. Of those, six were alcohol-related. Of six vehicle crash fatalities in Faribault County from 2009-2011, one was alcohol-related.
Fowler pointed out that the largest age group of people driving while impaired is 21-34 for both Martin and Faribault counties.
"They are head and shoulders above the rest," Fowler said. "But from 2008-2011, Martin County had 29 drunk-driving arrests of people under the age of 21, people who weren't supposed to be drinking in the first place."
For Faribault County, there were 14 underage drinking and driving incidents from 2008-2011.
"A DWI offense can result in a loss of your driver's license for up to a year," Fowler said. "Repeat offenders, along with those [who] have a blood-alcohol level at .16 or above, must use ignition interlock in order to regain driving privileges, or face a year without a license. Offenders with three or more offenses are required to use the ignition interlock for three to six years, or they could permanently lose their driving privileges."
Fowler made clear that police saturations for impaired driving enforcements will not interfere with regular police calls.
"Safe and Sober grants are what pay for these extra officers to be on patrol," he said. "There are still the regular number of officers on duty responding to calls."
Fowler reiterated that the goal of the Safe and Sober is to push "Towards Zero Deaths" on the roads.
"It's so easy to avoid, it's so senseless," Fowler said. "If you plan to drink, plan ahead and make sure you have a sober ride, or you're going to be someplace where you don't need to worry about driving. We don't want people to be planning funerals at Christmastime."