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How Mexico City's Drunk Driving Crack Down is Making the City Safer

Nathaniel Parish Flannery - The Atlantic Cities
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February 6, 2013



Mexico has one of the world's worst road safety records, with more than 80,000 people killed in traffic accidents in the past four years. But authorities say the message is slowly getting through that the country's laws are there to be obeyed. Encouragingly, despite population growth, the number of road deaths is stable, and there is evidence, particularly in Mexico City, that attitudes towards drunk-driving are changing for the better. (The Guardian UK)

After midnight, Cesar Perez, the director of Mexico City's Driving Without Alcohol program, stands alongside more than a dozen other police officers at a checkpoint on the corner of Reforma and Insurgentes avenues, near the capital's historic center. Perez, a veteran officer with a serious demeanor, isn't looking for drug smugglers. He and his team have a different focus: drunk drivers.

He looks over at the line of cars by the curb. "In 2003 [former New York City mayor Rudolph] Giuliani came to look for programs to increase the efficiency of the police," Perez says. "We had a high incidence of drunk driving." Under a slight drizzle, a police tow truck operator raises the front of an impounded late model Volkswagen Beetle. The car's driver, a middle-aged man in a crisp blue shirt, fails his breathalyzer test and will spend the night inside a holding facility, along with a few hundred other over-the-legal-limit drivers detained at other checkpoints.

In other parts of the country, cartel violence is raging and criminals are taking advantage of the resulting power vacuum. But in Mexico City, the police, through their presence in the streets, have helped reduce the types of common crimes that affect residents the most. The alcoholímetro checkpoints are now a well-recognized element of Mexico City's nightlife. They are part of a broader slate of innovative community-oriented police programs that have helped turn Mexico City from one of the world's most dangerous places into one of the safest areas in Mexico.

At the checkpoint on Reforma Avenue, police officers in white vests emblazoned with the word "ALCOHOLÍMETRO" wave cars though the cordoned-off lane behind the mobile breathalyzer station. "It's a civil infraction... [we detain] eight to twenty-five people a night," at each checkpoint, Perez explains. Five detainees who failed their breathalyzer tests wait inside a transport vehicle. "When there are five or six people, we take them to El Torito," he says, a holding facility where drunk drivers must spend a minimum of twenty and a maximum of thirty-six hours. "It's not a pleasant place. People don't want to go back," Perez says.

Read the whole story at The Atlantic Cities

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