Special to the Reporter

Think before you drink this long holiday weekend and then get behind a wheel.

The nation's first statewide "No Refusal" program will be in effect in Somervell and other Texas counties. The No Refusal program treats a DWI arrest in the usual way except that a person's ability to refuse a scientific test is taken away.

After the arrested suspect refuses the test, a law enforcement officer and/or prosecutor draft a search warrant for blood and submit the warrant to a judge who reviews the warrant for probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause to believe the driver is intoxicated, the judge authorizes a medical professional to draw a blood sample for use as evidence in the DWI case.

Search warrants for blood began in 2002 after the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals cases authorized the procedure.

In 2006 the No Refusal program was created by Montgomery County prosecutor Warren Diepraam. It's since expanded to many Texas counties and other states. This weekend marks the first time the program will be in effect statewide.

"We want this to be the safest July 4th in history on our state's roadways and waterways," the DPS said. Almost all counties using the program have seen "drastic" drops in DWI cases and crashes, and those consistently using the program have seen a fatal alcohol crash reduction of 50 to 70 percent and a reduction in all DWI cases of about 30 percent, the DPS added.

Nationally, the Fourth of July is the No. 1 holiday for alcohol-related fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

During the Independence Day holiday, the Texas Highway Patrol will conduct focused DWI patrols in high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent. The enhanced patrols target impaired driving and are funded through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation.

The increased patrols are scheduled for June 27 through July 6. All available DPS troopers will patrol during this time to keep the traveling public safer by keeping drunk drivers off the roadways.

“Highway travel increases during the Fourth of July holiday, and we want to make sure that everyone is driving sober and getting to their destinations safely,” said Chief David G. Baker, the DPS assistant director of the Texas Highway Patrol. “Anyone who plans on drinking, should also plan on having someone else drive them home.”

A DWI arrest and conviction in Texas can cost up to $17,000 or more.

Troopers are also participating in Operation Holiday and Operation C.A.R.E. from July 1 to July 4, both of which provide increased patrol to make holiday travel safer. In addition to looking for drunk drivers, troopers will focus on seat belt violators and speeders.

Last year during the extended holiday weekend, DPS troopers made 617 DWI arrests, issued 8,882 speeding citations and ticketed more than 1,600 seat belt and child safety seat violators.

With the ongoing drought and the high-risk of wildfires, DPS asks that all drivers avoid tossing cigarettes out of their vehicle. Drivers should also avoid stopping or parking vehicles in grass, which can catch fire when it comes in contact with an automobile’s catalytic converter.