The Illinois State Police district headquartered in East Moline is on track to rival last year’s record number of drunken driving arrests, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Iowa State Patrol troopers in the Quad-City region also are posting more drunken driving arrests than in past years.
Capt. Jeffrey Patterson of the Illinois State Police said that when he looked at his mid-2010 statistics, he saw the officers of his district are on track for another big year of apprehensions.
“I don’t get it,” Patterson said. “There are ads about the penalties of drunk driving on the TV, on the radio, in newspapers, on billboards, they’re all over.”
Yet, he said, people continue to drive drunk. “I guess they think they’re not going to get caught,” Patterson said.
From 2005 through 2008, he said, drunken driving arrests ran between 235 and 296 on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Then, in 2009, the number of arrests exploded to 528. Few people were caught at roadside safety checks, Patterson said. Nearly all were caught by officers on patrol.
As of Friday, 257 have been arrested in 2010.
“We have a lot less officers,” Patterson said. But he added that the number of arrests might indicate the greater emphasis the department has put on catching drunken drivers.
In Iowa, troopers arrested 328 people in Muscatine, Scott, Cedar, Jones, Jackson and Clinton counties in 2009, statistics show. That was up from 220 the previous year. As of last week, they made 175 arrests in 2010.
Scott County Sheriff Dennis Conard said in 1979, alcohol safety programs kicked in nationwide during a push by the federal government to combat drunken driving. And, a more recent change in law means a person is now considered drunk at a blood alcohol content of .08 instead of .10.
“Back then, in 1979 at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, every other car you met was being driven by somebody who was over the legal limit,” Conard said. “I think it’s better than it used to be. I think .08 has made people a lot more cautious and has gotten some dangerous drivers off the street. But we still have a huge issue.”
What is amazing, Conard said, is that the vast majority of people who are driving drunk, or under the influence of drugs, or texting, or tired, are not caught. “That should be the scariest part of all of this,” he said. “They’re a bullet without a conscience.”
Rock Island County Sheriff Mike Huff said why people drive drunk is always the question.
“One of the first things that goes with alcohol consumption is mental judgment. When you’re drunk your mental judgment says ‘I’m OK,’ then you start out with a problem.”
Huff agrees that aggressive enforcement has pushed up the arrest numbers, but the change in drunken driving laws also has had an impact. New technology to collect evidence has aided police, too, Huff said.
“There was a time when agencies were under-equipped and under-trained to deal with this,” he said. For instance, for many years there was no school for police to learn about the levels of intoxication.
“We didn’t have training and we didn’t have machines,” he said. “We didn’t have portable pre-breathalyzer tests, or PBTs.”