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CHP wants all to be safe during holiday

When midnight Sunday rolls around and local California Highway Patrol officers have had a quiet, uneventful Thanksgiving holiday weekend, then they will be thankful.

"Our message is simple, drive safe, drive sober and buckle up. The CHP is giving thanks this holiday season for drivers who play by the rules and help make the state's roads a safer place," Capt. Steve Badilla, commander of the Merced Area Office, said.

From tonight at 6 until Monday morning, the CHP is implementing its Maximum Enforcement Period. That means every available officer is on the road, looking especially for drunken drivers, speeders and others generally not being careful.

"Although several of us are working and are away from our families, it is rewarding to ensure that motorists get to their destinations safely during the holidays," Officer Luis Lara said.

Four Merced-based officers will be concentrating on catching speeders and those not using seat belts and another 11 will be focusing on drunken driver enforcement.

Badilla said motorists should be prepared for traffic tie-ups, especially today and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The possibilities of rain, fog, wind and snow throughout the state can create frustrating as well as hazardous conditions for drivers.

"Many crashes are caused by driving too fast for current conditions," Badilla said.

To cut down on the number of drivers mixing Thanksgiving turkey with alcohol, the CHP is planning a DUI sobriety checkpoint between 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday in an unincorporated area of Merced County.

Last Thanksgiving weekend, Merced CHP officers arrested 22 drunken drivers.

Officer Shane Ferriera, CHP spokesman, said patrolmen do four to six checkpoints a year and particularly target the holidays. He said the main purpose of the checkpoint is educational, to cut down on the number of drunks on the state's roads. Motorists contacted at the checkpoints will receive handouts with information about DUI laws and other safety programs.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or