by Heather Tomlinson
New Year’s Eve is all about saying goodbye to the old and ringing in the new — complete with friends, family, and, for some, alcohol.
That’s why personal responsibility is something local and state law enforcement agencies are emphasizing as tonight’s festivities get underway.
“Overall, we’ve not had a lot of problems (after Somerset went wet),” said Captain Shannon Smith, with the Somerset Police Department. “We were preparing for bar fights, excessive drinking, and things like that, and overall, we’ve just not seen that.
“We can give credit to the establishments for policing themselves ... the (City of Somerset) Alcoholic Beverage Control deserves some credit for the overseeing the overall procedures,” Smith continued. “And I think the general public deserves some credit.
“ ... We have seen an overall increase in activity, but it’s not been a huge problem, and we hope that trend continues,” Smith added.
Tonight’s Somerset will be quite different than the Somerset of January 2012. While it had long been known that Somerset voters had decided to make Somerset a “wet” city — complete with packaged liquor sales, restaurant alcohol sales and bars and pubs — some parts of that designation weren’t put into place by New Year’s Eve in 2012.
Specifically, business owners who had applied for the limited quota licenses had yet to be told whether they’d been given one of the licenses. And so champagne — or other forms of liquor besides malt beverages — weren’t yet available by the bottle in Somerset on Dec. 31, 2012.
Now, as people prepare for their New Year’s shindigs, they have many more options than they did a year ago.
But, first and foremost, police want people to be accountable about their decisions throughout tonight’s celebrations — and they will be out in full force to make sure everyone is acting responsibly.
Kentucky State Police is preparing for tonight in much the same way as other agencies. The statewide force is continuing its ‘Operation Holiday Lights’ program, which began at Thanksgiving. Efforts include nighttime seat belt enforcement and impaired driving crackdowns.
Kentucky State Police Spokesperson Trooper Paul Blanton said the agency will utilize all resources available in an effort to reduce loss of life on Kentucky roadways.
“Kentucky is at the lowest number of highway fatalities since 1947,” said Blanton. “A part of that number is due to enforcement and education efforts about traffic safety. The other part is credited to the vigilance of motorists who wear seat belts, reduce their driving speed and utilize designated driver programs.”
“More drivers in Kentucky are making wise choices when it comes to traffic safety and we encourage them to remain vigilant with these practices,” added Blanton.
Smith said SPD has designated plenty of officers and overtime to ensure enough officers stay on the streets tonight to help enforce traffic safety laws. Smith pointed out SPD’s efforts in May and June to conduct a number of DUI checkpoints in the city shows that they mean business when it comes to impaired driving.
“We showed them we were serious about the enforcement part of it, and we still are,” said Smith. “Our plan is to keep doing what we have been doing.”
Smith said the best way to avoid any unsafe situations is to designate a sober driver before you begin your celebrations.
“If you’ve had any to drink, whatsoever, have a designated driver,” said Smith. “Out of an abundance of caution.”
Smith said bad decisions are made when a group of people find themselves impaired during a celebration with no way to get home.
“It’s not an uncommon thing to have an impaired driver with a much less-impaired passenger,” said Smith. “Don’t make a bad choice worse. We don’t want you to draw straws and see who’s the least impaired to drive.”
Blanton echoed those thoughts, stating that planning ahead is the best way to stay safe.
“We know there are going to be holiday celebrations this time of year where alcohol will be consumed, so your best bet is to always designate a sober driver before the parties begin,” said Blanton.
Blanton urged friends and family members to take the keys away from anyone who consumes alcohol and arrange for them to be driven home.
And if a designated driver is not available, a taxi service is the next best option.
“Make no mistake, our message is simple,” Blanton said. “If you are caught driving impaired, you will be arrested. We will be out in force to take drunk drivers off the road.”