For some, the idea of a Christmas tree without ornaments is a little sad. But officers at the Anchorage Police Department are hoping a tree displayed there won’t be decorated this year.

During the month of December, police plan to put a blue ribbon on the tree for every charge of impaired driving, or OUI. It’s an arrest, according to APD spokesperson Renee Oistad, they’d prefer not to make.

“The most frustrating thing about OUIs is they are 100% preventable. Every single one is preventable,” Oistad said.

According to APD's figures, OUI arrests in the month of December have been climbing in recent years, from 130 in 2016 to 139 in 2017, and 150 in 2018. Oistad called that a move in the wrong direction and said there is no excuse for anyone who is not 100% sober to get behind the wheel.

“You can call a cab, Uber, Lyft. Make arrangements ahead of time to stay where you're at. There’s just so many other things you can do other than get behind the wheel of that car and potentially end your life or the life of someone else,” she said.

In Alaska drivers are considered legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .08. But Oistad said people with a lower concentration can also be charged if sobriety tests show they are impaired. And she added that many types of drugs can lead to impairment too.

"We often think about alcohol, but pot is included in that, any other illegal drugs is included in that. Any medication that your doctor has prescribed to you that you're not supposed to drive when you are on, that happens too,” Oistad said.

According to Oistad, officers have arrested people who are legitimately taking medication but who should not have been behind the wheel of a car. As for marijuana, Oistad said officers will administer a breathalyzer test to rule out alcohol. She said a search warrant is needed to take a blood sample to check for other drugs. 

In Alaska there is not currently a legal limit for marijuana impairment while driving.

Bottom line, she said, December is a time to enjoy the holidays, but make sure you’ve thought about how to do that safely.

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