SARATOGA COUNTY — Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said the department and other law enforcement officials would be stepping up patrols on roadways and waterways throughout the county to combat impaired driving.
“If you’re going out, have a plan,” he said at a Tuesday press conference at DeCrescente Distributing Co. in Mechanicville. “People who go out and don’t have a plan will face the consequences.
“We need to keep the roads in Saratoga County safe, and we intend on doing that.”
Zurlo said an additional 1 million people are expected to pass through Saratoga County this summer, attracted by events at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Saratoga Race Course.
Chuck DeWeese, assistant commissioner for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Traffic Safety Committee, which provides grant funding to local, state and county officials for DWI enforcement, said alcohol is not the only substance that impairs drivers.
“For the past 40 years, we sit here seven times a year still reminding people it’s not right to drink and drive,” he said. “While alcohol fatalities are on the decline, there’s still way too many. There’s a rise in drivers who are impaired by opiates and marijuana, so don’t drive while impaired by alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal narcotics.”
DeWeese said there are approximately 270 drug recognition experts across the state. Drug experts are specially trained to recognize the effects of different drugs in impaired driving suspects.
Captain Daniel Morley, of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office said the drug recognition experts are also at the department’s checkpoints.
“Drug impairment is a huge issue, especially with the current opioid epidemic and the potential legalization of marijuana,” he said.
Morely said drinking and driving can have irreversible consequences.
“Many times, people don’t think about them before they get behind the wheel,” he said. “The key to prevention is to not get behind the wheel to begin with.”
Sarah Liedel, of Milton, lost her 14-year-old daughter, Kari, in July 2012, after she was struck by a drunken driver while walking on West Milton Road.
“I come to these things to ask others not to put any other family in the position my family was put in,” she said. “To lose a child — there’s nothing worse.”
Liedel added that there are alternatives to getting behind the wheel impaired.
“Call friends. Walk home. Take an Uber or a taxi,” she said. “There are too many options, so there’s no excuse for drinking and driving.
“The consequences are not just going to jail, but you could lose your life or take someone else’s life.”
Ride-sharing networks, Uber and Lyft, which became legal in upstate New York a year ago, have influenced the amount of impaired drivers on the road, according to Mechanicville Police Chief Joe Waldron.
“They’ve had a tremendous impact,” he said. “We see a lot more of them (ride-share vehicles) at our checkpoints, which is definitely a good thing.”
On July 4, 47 million people nationwide are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home to celebrate the holiday, an increase of more than 5 percent from last year, according to AAA.
Drivers can expect to pay an average of $2.90 per gallon as July 4 draws near — the highest price since 2014, when the national average was $3.66 per gallon, according to GasBuddy, a Boston-based technology company.
In addition to road patrols, Zurlo said deputies and other law enforcement officials would be on navigation patrol on waterways throughout Saratoga County.
He added that, with temperatures in the 90s this weekend and into early next week, boaters should be drinking plenty of water, instead of alcohol.
“Use common sense this summer,” he said. “We want everyone to have a safe and fun summer; don’t drink and drive.”