The sheriff's office will pay particular attention to inattentive and drunk drivers during a new traffic safety effort that began last week. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – The Malheur County Sheriff’s Office is launching a series of roadway stings this month and into next year to get drunk drivers off the road and people off their cell phones.

Three state grants of more than $20,000 will fund the effort.

“We will get extra patrols out and going, two or three or four extra people specifically looking for those issues,” said Travis Johnson, undersheriff.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2016 more than 10,000 people died on the roadways in crashes involved in drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. In Oregon, a driver will fail a field sobriety test if their blood alcohol content is 0.8 or higher. 

The sheriff’s office kicked off its first drunk and distracted driving effort last week. The crackdown will run through Dec. 31, said Johnson.

“We don’t want to find people drinking and driving. If people do, hopefully we will find them,” said Johnson

Johnson said deputies will also check for proper seatbelt use. Seatbelts save lives, Johnson said. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that in 2016 more than 14,000 people were saved by using their seat belts.

Johnson said the sheriff’s office checks to see that drivers are not distracted while they are behind the wheel.

Between 2012 and 2016 Oregon logged more than 10,000 crashes and 70 deaths connected to distracted driving.

“When we are doing one of these we are looking for everything really,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the grant money will be used throughout the next year to stage similar stings.

“We are trying to get out and make a difference with it,” said Johnson.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-474-3377.