By CRISTIN REECE
State and local law enforcement officials are reminding people not to let the summer festivities go to their heads.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Independence Day traditionally ranks among the deadliest holiday periods on Texas highways as a result of alcohol-related crashes.
In response, the Palestine Police Department, the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have stepped up patrols through the holiday.
“We’re always out in full force for any holiday,” PPD Lt. James Muniz said.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said his department will be patrolling more and reminded people to be safe when using fireworks this year.
“We’re very near needing a burn ban right now,” Sheriff Taylor said. “It’s going to be really hot and dry so people need to be careful and just use good common sense.”
Through July 7, state troopers are adding DWI patrols for high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent.
“The Fourth of July is a time of celebration in our country, and we encourage Texans to enjoy and mark this holiday responsibly,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw in a release published on the DPS’s website. “Impaired driving can quickly turn a time of celebration into a tragedy, so Texans should designate a sober driver or secure another form of transportation if they plan to drink alcohol.
“Our troopers will also be doing their part during the holiday by increasing their patrols to keep our roadways safe.”
DPS troopers made 1,294 DWI arrests during the holiday last year – 361 of which were the direct result of the increased patrols.
According to the department’s website, increased enforcement also resulted in nearly 13,700 speeding citations, more than 2,200 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 750 fugitive arrests and 518 felony arrests during this period.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens are also patrolling the state’s lakes and waterways to make sure everyone stays safe through the summer months.
TPWD officials report July is historically one of the busiest months for Texas’ state parks, lakes and rivers.
According to the TPWD’s website, alcohol is believed to play a part in about one-third of all boating fatalities in Texas, and of victims who drowned in boating accidents nationwide, approximately 85 percent were not wearing lifejackets.
Local game wardens will be out on the water in force again this year, to ensure everyone is safe.
“Compliance in this area is getting better and better,” Anderson County Game Warden Karen Gray said. “But we do still see people every year who don’t know the law, or simply choose not to obey.”
Warden Gray said game wardens will be performing field sobriety tests on boaters through the summer. Anyone failing such tests could go to jail for up to 180 days, be fined as much as $2,000 or both. Additionally, the person's drivers' license may be automatically suspended.