SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Highway Patrol is gearing up for a three-day DUI blitz this Labor Day weekend, the third-deadliest holiday for drivers in the state.
In his time with UHP, trooper Lawrence Hopper says he's seen it all.
"We've seen them with their boats coming back from the lake. We've seen them coming from their family barbecues," Lawrence said. "It really doesn't matter to us where they're coming from or what they're towing. If you're under the influence, you're going to get arrested."
DUI checkpoints will be set up across the state as troopers work nearly 300 overtime shifts for the last big holiday of the summer, all in hopes of preventing fatal accidents. The overtime work is being paid for in part with a $5,000 donation from the New Car Dealers of Utah’s Good Wheels Foundation.
Since 2003, Utah has seen 39 traffic deaths during the Labor Day holiday, putting it in third place behind Independence Day, with 42 deaths, and Thanksgiving, with 41 deaths, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Eight of those Labor Day deaths were DUI-related, second to Pioneer Day, which had nine.
People enjoying the long weekend tend to drink more because they don't have to worry about going to work the next day, Lawrence said. The problem comes when they get behind the wheel.
"What surprises me is that even though we've given them the message over and over again — find a designated driver, call a cab — what surprises me is people still get into their cars after they've been drinking, and they still drive drunk," Lawrence said. "They still think they can do it."
Accidents are more common — and more deadly — for holiday commuters because drivers face risk factors such as fatigue, impaired driving, long-distance travel, speeding and navigating on unfamiliar roadways, according to the DPS survey.
The UHP is asking drivers to follow five basic rules: Don't drive while under the influence; don't speed; don't get behind the wheel while drowsy; pay attention; and wear a seat belt.
Troopers will look for drivers who are weaving in and out of their lanes, failing to signal or speeding excessively, and other "simple things" people who are intoxicated would do, Lawrence said.
When UHP is out in force over the holidays, people drive more cautiously, he said.
"We want to make sure our presence is seen, and we've found that when we do that, people arrive to where they're going safer," Lawrence said.
Similar pushes have been made for New Year's Eve, which now ranks as the least deadly driving day, the DPS reported. Utah has had 17 New Year's traffic deaths since 2003, only one of which was DUI-related.
Contributing: Keith McCord