With most schools out for spring break, local law enforcement and state transportation officials are urging those with time off to avoid drinking and driving as they are out and about, and traveling.

The Texas Department of Transportation recorded 444 vehicle crashes involving young people under the influence of alcohol during the spring break period last March. The crashes resulted in 11 deaths and left 37 people seriously injured.

“Drinking alcohol and driving can severely impact a young person’s future,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said in a recent press release. “Many promising lives are cut short due to the poor decision to drink alcohol and drive. We urge young drivers to make responsible choices during the Spring Break holiday. Before heading out, please plan ahead for a sober ride to ensure you get to and from your destination safely.”

Sherman Police Sgt. Brett Mullen said alcohol negatively affects an individual’s reaction time, depth perception and decision making, and explained all are needed, without impairment, to safely operate a motor vehicle.

“As you’re driving down the road, you’re constantly having your senses and motor skills divided by steering the car, scanning the road and manipulating the gas or brake pedal,” Mullen said. “Once alcohol is introduced into the body, your ability to control all those things is diminished.”

Mullen said patrolling officers frequently spot impaired drivers by their inability to maintain lanes and erratic braking. Once a traffic stop is conducted, Mullen said officers may further detect a driver’s impairment by noting the smell of alcohol on the person, or by their slurred speech, glassy, watery eyes, and inattention.

“If we ask for a driver’s license and somebody produces a credit card, that’s usually a good indicator that there might be some level of intoxication involved,” Mullen said.

The Sherman Police sergeant said field sobriety tests are used, in part, to reveal a driver’s ability to maintain balance and follow directions. If a driver is believed to be intoxicated, Mullen said he or she will be read their statutory rights and asked whether they will submit to a blood test or breath-detection test. In the state of Texas, drivers are considered intoxicated if they register a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or lack the “normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol…”

Mullen said all drivers in Texas can be charged with driving while intoxicated if they meet the state’s legal definition. But Mullen said those under the the legal drinking age can also be charged with driving under the influence, or DUI, if they have any detectable amount of alcohol in their system while behind the wheel. TxDOT states a DUI conviction may result in up to $17,000 in fines and possible jail time.

“It’s a bad deal,” Mullen said. “It can be a major disruption in your life. If you’re convicted, your licence will likely be suspended, then you add on all the fines, fees and legal issues you have to face. But, obviously, there are other far worse consequences, including seriously bodily injury and the death of yourself or others.”

Mullen said while it remains illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol, he encouraged anyone who intends to imbibe to do so responsibly and never operate a motor vehicle.

“Just have a plan ahead of time and make arrangements,” Mullen said. “Have a designated driver, call a cab, do whatever you need to in order to make it home safely.”

Visit www.soberrides.org for more information about drinking-and-driving alternatives.