Backed by new drunk driving laws, a get-tough attitude from the public and massive publicity about sobriety checkpoints, area police made dozens of arrests for drunk driving and reported three alcohol-related traffic fatalities this weekend, the bubbliest and booziest holiday of the year.
Although no comparative figures for arrests and fatalities were available yesterday, police in all local jurisdictions said there appeared to be greater awareness about the dangers of driving and drinking. And special taxi services, set up to ferry home drivers who had tippled one drink too many, found a marked increase in customers.
"We were swamped, much more than last year," said Jim Brown, president of the Fairfax County Serenity Club, which operated one of the New Year's weekend free ride services. "People started calling in the afternoon [of New Year's Eve] to make appointments for later that night. At one bar we picked up four carloads. The place was wall-to-wall drunks so the manager started calling us."
Phil Hertzog, manager of Barwood Cab in Montgomery County, which offered free rides for those too drunk to drive, found a similar increase in business on New Year's Eve. Yesterday the program was no longer in effect for lack of demand: "Most people who are going to be celebrating, celebrated all they're going to New Year's Eve, and today [New Year's day] they're home sleeping it off," Hertzog said.
In the District of Columbia, police reported only one alcohol-related traffic accident. According to police, an intoxicated pedestrian was walking in the roadway on 16th Street NW New Year's Eve and was struck by a motorist, who police said was sober and traveling less than 25 miles an hour. The pedestrian, whom police had not positively identified yesterday, was reported in critical condition at George Washington University hospital.
According to the District traffic division 31 arrests were made for drunk driving between 4 p.m Dec. 31 and 8 a.m. yesterday, a figure that was thought to exceed the number of arrests for the same period last year. For the last few weeks District police have been routinely asking motorists stopped for traffic violations to submit to roadside breathalizer tests.
In Maryland, where state and local police ran "sobriety checkpoints" and drunk driving roadblocks, two alcohol-related driving deaths had been reported by yesterday evening. Comparative figures for last year were unavailable.
In one case, in Prince George's County, a 23-year-old Andrews Air Force Base airman, Matthew I. Settle, was killed New Year's Eve when the driver of the automobile he was in fell asleep or passed out, police said, and the car veered off the road and smashed into a utility pole. Police said the driver was Robert D. Maletto, a 20-year-old Andrews airman, who was slightly injured and was taken to Prince George's County General Hospital and Medical Center.
The second death occurred in Harford County, where three weeks ago state police inaugurated a system of checkpoints that on New Year's Eve resulted in five arrests for drunk driving. That figure is higher than any other night since the checkpoint began, said a state police spokesman.
Montgomery and Prince George's county police ran local drunk driving roadblocks, stopping more than 5,000 autos and arresting at least 16 people for driving while intoxicated.
Prince George's spokeswoman Janice Hite said that police officers manning the roadblocks noticed "a large amount of taxis with intoxicated passengers, and cars operated by sober drivers with most of the passengers intoxicated."
In Virginia, state and local police reported seven traffic deaths although it was unclear if any of these were related to drunk driving. Police did not operate drunk driving roadblocks in Northern Virginia.
Among the major jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, only Falls Church made no alcohol-related arrests.