Holiday revelers partying in Tempe and Scottsdale and a strong presence of officers on the roads likely drove up the number of drunken driving arrests this year, a state highway safety official said Tuesday.
The East Valley Holiday DUI Task Force nabbed 1,798 drivers during the crackdown that lasted from Dec. 8 until Monday. West Valley agencies collared 319 motorists.
Authorities can attribute the difference in numbers to the East Valley task force as well as to the draw for drinking crowds in Tempe and Scottsdale, said Michael Hegarty, deputy director for the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
New Year’s Eve brought tens of thousands of people to block parties in the two East Valley cities. An estimated 90,000 attended the downtown Tempe block party, which netted four arrests for crimes ranging from forgery to liquor law violations, said Brandon Banks, Tempe police spokesman.
Scottsdale block party data wasn’t immediately available.
Statistics show that arrests in the West Valley increase as the evening progresses into the early morning, when people are driving home, Hegarty said.
A look at the numbers dating back to Thanksgiving shows an increase in drunken driving arrests compared with 2005 figures.
There were 2,649 arrests statewide in 2006. That is up from 2,399 in 2005, but slightly down from the 2,654 arrested in 2004, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
The average blood alcohol level was 0.146 in 2006, up from 0.145 in 2005 and 0.143 in 2004. The legal limit is 0.08.
“Every year, we’re hopeful we’ll have a lower number of arrests but unfortunately, the reality is people are driving while impaired,” said Mesa police detective Tim Gaffney, who is on the East Valley DUI task force.
Citations have gone up over the last three years. There were 285 drug impairment citations statewide in 2006 — compared with 208 in 2005 and 182 the year before.
Despite the increase, Hegarty remains optimistic. There are signs that people are changing their behavior and aren’t getting behind the wheel, he said. They are calling cabs and renting hotel rooms.
“We like to say the important thing here is 2,649 people were removed from the road before they killed anyone,” Hegarty said.
Gaffney is more cautious when speaking of the numbers, noting that of the 1,798 drivers arrested, some were repeat offenders booked more than once during the holiday period.
“It’s unfortunate that people just don’t get the message,” Gaffney said.