Members of the Conway Police Department are gearing up for what they are calling a "crackdown" on people who drive while impaired. The department will be launching operation "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" beginning Aug. 19. The program will run until Sept. 5, and Sgt. Ben Lackey said the goal of the program is to eliminate fatalities that occur because of drivers who believe they can safely operate a vehicle after they have consumed alcohol.

"All too often, innocent, law-abiding people suffer tragic consequences and the loss of loved ones due to this careless disregard for human life," he said. "We are committed to ending the carnage and because of this, we’re intensifying enforcement during the crackdown. Since twice as many alcohol-impaired accidents occur over the weekend and four times as many occur at night, we will be especially vigilant during these high-risk times when impaired drivers are most likely to be on our roads."

The program, which will also be taking place across the nation, is one that Det. Jason Cameron said is important to him. 

"As a member of the task force, I have taken part in many check points and have been a part of many arrests," he said. "It doesn’t matter if it is a juvenile who is trying to get away with having a few beers or someone that has been drinking all night, it will not be tolerated. It is dangerous for everyone on the road, and we will be making arrests with no exceptions."

According to information from the Administrative Office of the Courts (www.courts.state.ar.us/aoc) in 2009, about 561 cases were filed in the Conway reporting area. (These statistics represent, any law enforcement agencies that report in the Conway district.) 

In 2010, about 566 cases were filed. While the number total number of DWI cases only had a slight increase, the number of repeat offenders increased from 101 in 2009, to 125 in 2010. 

Cameron said he hopes people pay attention to how many officers will be patrolling for drunk drivers during the campaign because he would like the department’s presence to act as a deterrent for those thinking about getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.

"We want people to think twice before drinking and driving," he said. "That is why we’re here. I hope people understand that if they are caught, they will be going to jail. Usually people start to promise they’ll never drink and drive again after they realize they are going to jail, but there will be no chances for this offense."

Lackey echoed Cameron’s warning and reminds drivers that being in an automobile accident is not the only way they could suffer if caught drinking and driving.

"Our message is simple and unwavering: if we find you driving impaired, we will arrest you. No exceptions," Lackey said. "Even if you beat the odds and manage to walk away from an impaired-driving crash alive, the trauma and financial costs of a crash or an arrest for driving while impaired can still destroy your life."

According to officials with the CPD, violators often face jail time, loss of their driver licenses, or are sentenced to use ignition interlocks. Offenders’ insurance rates go up, not to mention other financial hits including: attorney fees, court costs, lost time at work, and the potential loss of job or job prospects. 

Cameron said he always tells drivers about the alternatives when they are pulled over and hopes that people will take them into consideration before they get behind the wheel.

"Planning ahead and finding a designated driver is always the best advice," he said. "However, sometimes people indulge a little more than they intend so I always remind people they have the option of sleeping it off in their vehicle or calling someone to come and get them. In addition to those options, Yellow Cab will pick them up from the bar and drive them home for free. They will even take them from bar to bar, so there is no excuse for getting behind the wheel."

According to officials with Yellow Cab, the service is free on Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m.-2 a.m., and tips are appreciated.

For more information on the nation-wide campaign, visit the High-Visibility Enforcement Campaign Headquarters at www.StopImpairedDriving.org.

(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at candie.beck@thecabin.net)