The Austin Police Department is bracing itself for Labor Day weekend with safety initiatives that will ban the use of personal watercraft on Lake Travis and levy harsher penalties for drunk driving and public intoxication.
According to senior police officer Veneza Bremner, APD will enforce a “no-refusal” initiative for the weekend to curb drunk driving. The initiative will run from 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Tuesday. It will allow officers to take a blood or breath sample from suspects who refuse a Breathalyzer test at the scene and will institute harsher punishment for those whose blood alcohol concentration is at or above .15.
Those found operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or above will be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of one-year confinement in jail and a $4,000 fine for first-time offenders. The usual penalty for a first time driving while intoxicated offense is $2,000.
“APD is focused on saving lives on the streets and highways of Austin and making Austin roadways safe for everyone through education and enforcement,” the department said in a statement.
Cindy Posey, spokeswoman for UTPD, said the department will continue to enforce DWI laws as usual but will not participate in the “no-refusal” initiative with APD.
Leigh Larson, an international relations and global studies sophomore and member of Zeta Tau Alpha, said many of her fellow sorority members avoid the downtown area during long holidays. Larson urges students drinking downtown to consider their options before taking a safety risk or driving drunk.
“Let someone know where you are going. Never walk alone and call a cop, friend or taxi [to get home],” Larson said.
Larson also said she thinks the party atmosphere associated with the long weekend could potentially be unsafe and that many of her friends will avoid the area for that reason.
“When there [are] that many people downtown, unless a fraternity opens a bar tab, many sorority girls won’t go to Sixth Street for safety reasons,” Larson said. “It’s a precautionary measure to keep the girls safe.”
The APD’s lake patrol unit will prohibit the use and operation of personal watercraft, wet bikes, motorized surfboards and similar devices on Lake Austin beginning Friday night. The ban will last until Tuesday. Non-motorized devices such as kayaks, canoes and paddleboards may still be used.
In a press release, the department said the annual ban on personal watercrafts is necessary to ensure the safety of the large number of people that make use of the lake and parks over Labor Day weekend.
According to data sets provided by Lisa Cortinas, a public information specialist for APD, last year’s Labor Day weekend yielded 94 DWI arrests, 33 breath samples, 61 blood draws and 11 mandatory blood draws. Fifty-three percent of arrestees refused to give breath or blood samples and 65 percent of all breath samples were .15 or higher.