The number of impaired driving deaths is soaring on Hawai'i Island, increasing 53 percent so far this year compared to the same time last year, the Hawai'i Police Department reports.
HPD Sergeant Thomas Koyanagi said the trend is especially troubling as the holiday season nears, with winter weather and more gatherings expected.
"We know a lot of people are going to be traveling and we want to make sure the roads are safe, so while they're on the roads, we're going to be on the roads too and we're going to be looking for those people," Koyanagi said.
Koyanagi is urging residents in town to use rideshare services if they plan to drink alcohol at an event.
However, the sergeant pointed out many Big Island residents live and gather in remote areas where rideshare drivers often are not available.
"So if you're going to host a party, designate someone to be a designated driver for your family and friends, and probably the best thing to offer is like a shuttle service," Koyanagi suggested.
Deaths linked to intoxicated driving, Koyanagi explained, increased as COVID restrictions were eased.
So far this year, there have been 840 arrests for driving under the influence, a 9 percent increase from the same time last year.
Koyanagi added a majority of the DUI arrests involved drivers who were taking drugs on top of drinking alcohol, such as cannabis, narcotics, and prescription medication.
"Alcohol being a depressant, is going to increase the effects, especially if you are taking a depressant, so you could have two drinks and take your medication, and you might be equivalent in what you might see in impairment of somebody over a 0.08, which is not good at all," Koyanagi said.
In addition to drunken driving, Koyanagi said more drivers are speeding, and ignoring the rainy weather that makes for slick roadways.
"Visibility, especially along the Daniel K Inouye Highway, is pretty bad at times," Koyanagi said.
The sergeant's advice to drivers: "Make sure your car is safe, make sure you got good tires, wiper blades, lights are working, but the main thing is to watch your speed and just to arrive alive."
The punishment for speeding on Hawai'i Island includes a range of fees and a 6-month license suspension.
Driving under the influence can lead to years of license removal as well as community service.