By JOSH NEWTON
Area law enforcement agencies are stepping up holiday patrols as the number of travelers increases.
In Cherokee County, drivers can expect to see more police out on the roads, including those from the Tahlequah Police Department, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
OHP Capt. Damon Tucker, commander of Troop C’s headquarters, said in a press release that extra manpower will hit the streets in the troop’s jurisdiction because of the number of fatalities and crashes last year.
Tucker said the day before Thanksgiving is the most-traveled day of the whole year, so Troop C troopers will be out in “full force” in Cherokee County and other counties within the troop’s jurisdiction.
Aircraft and unmarked units will be used to find speed violations, and “saturation patrol” will be used to find those who drive intoxicated or fail to wear their seat belts.
“If you’ve been drinking, don’t get behind the wheel, period,” said Tucker.
He urges those who drink alcohol to have a nondrinking driver ready to provide a ride. He also said drivers should consider the effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
“Many people don’t realize that medicines can cause impairments too,” he said. “Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects, and don’t drive if you’re taking a medication that can cause sleepiness, dizziness, or impaired reaction time.”
Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Bob Sanders said deputies will be out looking for any types of unsafe driving habits.
“We’ll be looking for safety violations, including those who are driving under the influence, and those who aren’t wearing their seat belts or using child restraints,” said Sanders.
Tahlequah Chief of Police Clay Mahaney said officers are conducting a special traffic enforcement through Sunday.
“If you’re going to drink, have a designated driver,” said Mahaney. “Refrain from texting while you’re driving, and always wear your seat belt.”
Police also said it’s important for children to be buckled up properly, with age-appropriate car seats when required.
Those who are driving and see an impaired driver can call a local law enforcement agency, or dial *55 from any cell phone to alert the OHP.
“Our goal is to keep Oklahomans safe on the roads this holiday season,” said Tucker.
Chuck Mai, a spokesman for AAA Oklahoma, said the agency is offering a safe, free ride to those who choose to drink alcohol over the holidays. Those who take advantage of the service do not have to be a member of the AAA.
“If you’ve been drinking, why take a chance and drive? We know alcohol is going to be consumed at holiday parties, whether at a friend or relative’s house or while out on the town,” he said. “When the party’s over, we just want to make sure the roads are as safe as possible for everybody.”
Mai said those who celebrate with alcohol can receive a free ride home – along with his or her vehicle and up to one more person – within a 15-mile radius of the point of pickup in Tahlequah, Muskogee, Tulsa and several other Oklahoma cities. The Tipsy Tow service will be offered from 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 21, until 2 a.m. Monday, Nov. 26.
“The number to call is 1-800-222-4357 – which translates to 1-800-AAA-HELP,” said Mai. “Write this number down and keep it in your car’s glove box. When you call, tell the AAA operator, ‘I need a Tipsy Tow,’ and a truck will be on its way.”
Mahaney said city residents who are leaving their homes for the holidays can call the police department or visit the PD’s section of the city website to request extra patrols. He also recommends they leave a light on, secure the home, and notify a trusted neighbor about being gone.
Anyone who sees suspicious activity should call their local law enforcement agency.