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SALT LAKE CITY — It was a busy night for law enforcement along the Wasatch Front. A donation from the New Car Dealers of Utah put an extra 20 Highway Patrol troopers on the road to watch for drivers who were driving while intoxicated after ringing in the new year.
For UHP troopers, it was a successful night. Across the Salt Lake County, 40 arrests were made; and the year ended with the lowest number of highway traffic fatalities in nearly four decades.
Craig Bickmore, executive director of New Car Dealers of Utah, said they've tried to help with the blitzes for more than a decade.
"We believe in safety, and cars and safety really go together," he said. "So as people are driving, especially at holiday times, we want them to be really conscientious of the fact that they are responsible for how they drive and act in these vehicles."
Trooper Rusty Hurd of the UHP DUI Squad was one of the law enforcement agents serving in the blitz. As one of 10 troopers in on the DUI Squad, he said there has only been one night on the job since July that he hasn't arrested someone for DUI.
"After midnight I'll pull a vehicle over for anything," Hurd said. "If their headlight is out, if they change lanes without a blinker."
By the time parties ended for most people early Tuesday morning, troopers arrested 30 people in Salt Lake County and 10 in Salt Lake City for impaired driving. Statewide numbers are expected to be released Wednesday.
"I tell them, ‘Hey, I don't think you're a bad person, you just made a mistake tonight, let's just get through this,'" Hurd said.
I tell them, 'Hey, I don't think you're a bad person, you just made a mistake tonight, let's just get through this.'
–Trooper Rusty Hurd
Hurd said he tries to show compassion to those he comes in contact with, but he knows he can't be lenient when it comes to DUI.
"It's a job I feel really good about doing," Hurd said. "I can go home and feel like I made a difference tonight."
Meanwhile, Bickmore praised law enforcement efforts and said he is happy to help them in any way. He has accompanied officers in years past and was struck by how many people drive impaired even knowing police were on the streets.
"It surprises me people would be so irresponsible to drink and drive," Bickmore said. "You can call a taxi, call a friend, get a designated driver. There is no reason to drink and drive unless you choose to be irresponsible — and shame on you if you choose to do that. We just ask that people be responsible when they drive. Keep us all safe."
Still, he said he has seen the numbers decrease. The number of fatalities on Utah's roads in 2012 is looking to be as low as numbers in 1974, when 228 people were killed, and possibly 1959, when they were even lower at 205.
Contributing: Jed Boal