Evanston police asks drivers to be safe and sober this holiday weekend

Evanston police don’t want to ticket motorists this Thanksgiving weekend but anyone not wearing a seat belt or driving impaired can expect to see flashing police lights in their rearview mirror, said Sgt. Scott Sophier.

“We appreciate the ability to notify the community we’ll be out there and to know what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s not a secret. We’d rather people be aware of it and take proactive steps.”

Millions of motorists will be hitting the road to celebrate Thanksgiving and Evanston police will be working around the clock to make sure those travelers are buckled up and driving safely, Sophier said. He said Evanston police are joining the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois State Police to remind motorists to “Click It or Ticket” and to drive sober.

The goal of the “high-visibility effort” is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities, he said.

“What happens in a collision is if your vehicle has to suddenly stop, your body also goes at whatever speed you’re traveling,” he said. “If the seat belt’s not there to stop your body from making contact, that can cause not only external damage but internal damage to the organs in your body. The seat belts are there to protect you from that trauma.”

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the statewide seat-belt usage rate is at 93%, and while that’s good, Sophier said it also means that hundreds of thousands of people do not wear seat belts.

“100% would be a lot better,” he said. “There’s overwhelming research to suggest that wearing a properly fashioned seat belt and also securing your children properly can minimize or eliminate injuries.”

He said that last year on Thanksgiving weekend, Evanston police wrote 54 citations, including 29 seat belt tickets, 6 distracted driving tickets, and 19 other “collective violations,” including one for driving without a license, and one for driving with a suspended license.

Sophier also said seat belt violations written under state statute are fined at $164 and are $35 if written under the Evanston city code.

In addition, he said officers will be looking for motorists driving under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, and that people should make arrangements ahead of time if they’re planning to drink or use cannabis this holiday weekend.

“People do not necessarily equate ‘being under the influence of cannabis’ as being under the influence of alcohol,” Sophier said. “They are one in the same.”

“Cannabis can impair your ability to safely operate the vehicle,” he added. “Similar to alcohol, you have a slower reaction time to unexpected events such as braking in an emergency. You can also have problems with lane position and decreased divided attentions which is extremely important when operating a motor vehicle.”

Brian L. Cox is a freelance reporter with Pioneer Press.

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