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December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an average of nearly 30 people in the United States die in drunk driving crashes every day — more than 10,000 people a year. The holiday season brings more parties around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, causing the number of car wrecks caused by impaired drivers to increase in December.

Police began cracking down on drunk driving in the 1980s, and the average cost of an initial DUI charge now reaches up to $10,000. More options exist than ever before for alternatives to drunk driving, and Citizen Potawatomi Nation Police Department Police Major Mike Hendrickson encourages everyone to remember them all.

“You need to have more than one means of getting home safely — be that a cab, Uber, phone a friend, or whatever it may be,” he said. “Or be prepared to spend the night wherever you’re at.”

Hendrickson also recommends having one reliable person to call for a ride, even while in a group.

“Always have someone you can call on, even if you have a designated driver. … Because as we all know, sometimes the designated driver will become more intoxicated than anyone else,” he said.

More than 1,800 people died in drunk driving crashes in Oklahoma between 2009 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state issues between 10 days to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for a DUI. Those arrested in the Tribe’s jurisdiction can face up to six months in jail and a $3,000 fine.

“We do have a zero-tolerance policy on DUIs,” Hendrickson said. “So if they get in their vehicle and drive, and they’re intoxicated, and we catch them, that’s a 100 percent chance they’re going to go to jail.”

CPN has seen a drastic decrease in drunk driving in the last five years, despite owning various establishments that sell liquor such as convenience stores and casinos. The Tribe requires Training for Intervention ProcedureS certification, also knowns as TIPS, for all staff serving and selling alcohol. Servers, bartenders and store clerks learn the skills necessary to recognize intoxication and interact with inebriated customers to prevent drunk driving.

“They notice somebody is a little tipsy. They contract security, and then security will try to find alternate means of transportation or encourage them to get a hotel room. And then we get involved if it goes beyond that. Normally, that’s where it ends is we try to get them a place to stay, somebody to pick them up. We just don’t release them out into the public,” Hendrickson said

“This is one aspect of our job that is truly a team event. We couldn’t do it without our partners in the casinos.”

As a result, CPN police arrested only two people for DUIs in fiscal year 2020.

“Chairman, came up with the phrase … for the Grand, ‘The safest place to play.’ And that’s true in more than just the COVID pandemic,” Hendrickson said.

For more facts and information about drunk driving, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website at nhtsa.gov.