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New year brings drunken driving crackdown

POSTED December 24, 2009 2:09 p.m.
The Chinese calendar may have declared 2010 as the year of the tiger, but in California it will be “the year of the checkpoint.”
In the most ambitious campaign to date, the California Office of Traffic Safety will spend a record $8 million in grant funding in 2010 to target drunken drivers and get them off the roads. The $8 million, which is up from $5 million in 2009, will be doled out to 148 law enforcement agencies for driving under the influence checkpoints and saturation patrols. The OTS will fund more than 2,500 sobriety checkpoints in 2010, a 47 percent increase over the 1,700 conducted this year.
“To my knowledge, California conducts more checkpoints than any other state,” said OTS Director Christopher J. Murphy. “DUI checkpoints are time-tested and proven as the most effective DUI countermeasure and I’m gratified we’re seeing the life-saving results.”
The increased efforts to stop and catch drunken drivers is already underway. There are more than 250 sobriety checkpoints scheduled in the state just between Dec. 18 to Jan. 3, 2010. In Stanislaus County, the “Avoid the 12” campaign, operated out of the Turlock Police Department, has conducted 14 different operations since Dec. 18, ranging from checkpoints to court stings looking for people driving on suspended licenses. The 12 agencies participating in the program have 12 more operations set up for the remainder of the crackdown period.
According to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, there were more than 4,000 collisions that occurred during last year’s Christmas enforcement period in California. During that same time period, 37 people died on California’s roadways and among those killed, 23 lost their lives in alcohol-related crashes.
In addition to the “Avoid the 12” crackdown, the California Highway Patrol is planning a maximum enforcement period through Sunday night.
“The holidays are about family, friends, and celebration,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Unfortunately, it’s also a time of year when we see too many alcohol-related fatalities. The public can help by, first and foremost, planning ahead before you celebrate and designating a non-drinking driver. If you see a drunk driver, call 911.”
Every year thousands of people are injured or killed in alcohol-related collisions in the state, but increased efforts are having an impact. Since the OTS and law enforcement began placing increased emphasis and funding toward sobriety checkpoints in 2006, alcohol-related deaths have declined in California. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded a 9.1 percent decrease in DUI fatalities in 2008, going from 1,132 in 2007 to 1,029 in 2008. Since 2005, alcohol involved fatalities have dropped 20.1 percent in the state.
In 2008, 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in California were caused by alcohol impaired driving, which is below the national average of 32 percent.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, statewide DUI arrests increased by 5.4 percent from 203,866 in 2007 to 214,811 in 2008, marking it as the highest year since 1993.
The California conviction rate for DUIs in 2006 was 79 percent, according to the DMV.
All the research points to DUI checkpoints as a major contributor to the declines. When checkpoints are mounted effectively and regularly, studies have shown up to 25 percent declines in alcohol-related deaths and injuries.
In 2010, the OTS will increase checkpoints in cities with more incidences of DUIs. In 2009 that number topped out at 605. In 2010, the number is expected to hit 975, an increase of more than 60 percent.
In addition to the checkpoints, the state’s traffic safety and transportation departments are working together on multiple enforcement and public education fronts, with OTS, CHP, Caltrans, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and Department of Motor Vehicles all playing major roles. Among private sector partners in the effort are more than 1,300 7-Eleven stores throughout California and 115 Raley’s supermarkets in Northern California that have joined the campaign to promote the “Plan Ahead. Designate a Sober Driver” message.
“We are grateful for and heartened by the support of 7-Eleven and Raley’s management and employees,” Murphy said. “By working together to encourage customers to use a sober designated driver when they celebrate, we can prevent serious DUI tragedies this holiday season.”
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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