The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is coordinating efforts with 14 county law enforcement agencies to prevent drunken and drugged driving during the holidays. Through DUI and driver’s license checkpoints, the officers hope to discourage drunk driving and to remove as many impaired drivers as possible from the roads via arrest rather than ambulance.
Other officers will be attacking the problem in sting operations, task force deployments, and warrant / probation sweeps. Police warn also against driving with a suspended or revoked license. Officers will be focusing on these violations and enforcing the consequences: issuing citations, making arrests, and impounding vehicles.
In San Diego County, during the first 48 hours of the holiday record-keeping period, officers arrested and booked 122 people for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is more than double the 57 arrested and booked for DUI during the same two days in 2009.
Parents of teens are asked to do their part to prevent alcohol-related tragedy during school breaks when students have more unsupervised time. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, beer is the most common type of alcoholic beverage involved in both DUI arrests and fatal crashes. It is also the drug of choice in most underage drinking and in binge drinking. Drivers under age 21 are subject to California’s Zero Tolerance Law: their blood alcohol content (BAC) must be under .01%, in other words, sober. On the first offense, the driver’s license is suspended for one year. The law also forbids the purchase of beer, wine, and hard liquor as well as having it with them or in the car.
Police, school, youth services, and probation officials coordinated this week to enforce curfew laws in the City of Santee, Lakeside, and the unincorporated areas of El Cajon. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department reports that these areas have seen regular increases in calls to police due to teenage curfew violations and parties during school holiday breaks. According to Sgt. Chris May, “There have also been events in the County of San Diego related to teenage drinking and driving from parties which have resulted in serious injury and or death.” Eight juveniles were taken into custody during the sweep. Five were placed into diversion contracts but three will have their cases referred to the San Diego Superior Court Juvenile Branch. All eight were released to their parents or guardians. Sgt. May reminds families that deputies will continue to enforce curfew laws “throughout the holiday season in an attempt to keep our communities and our teens safe.”
State laws and blood alcohol content (BAC) definitions vary. Be sure to let your out-of-state visitors know that anything over .08 in California is a DUI. California’s legal definition of blood alcohol content is the percent, by weight, of alcohol in a person’s blood based upon grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
While various rules of thumb abound for guestimating BAC, experts caution against them. For example, the number of drinks consumed is often used but can be a poor measure since individuals vary in weight, sex, body fat, and stomach contents. Another common trap is that, like calories, drinks are often under-counted, especially in social situations or during hectic times like the holidays. Portion distortion plagues drink servings, too. Unless you measure and mix all your drinks yourself, you may have no way to know exactly how much alcohol you have consumed. Study after study has shown that, even at BAC levels as low as .02, alcohol can affect a person’s response time and driving ability. Beyond .05, the probability of a crash increases significantly, and even more rapidly as you approach a .08 BAC.
Groups who ride together to and from holiday festivities should be clear that “designated driver” does not mean “the least drunk driver”. The role of designated driver is not one to spring on a friend half way through a party. In addition to designating sober drivers, police stress the importance of planning a safe way home before the festivities begin. Many communities have programs such as Sober Rides if you are impaired and cannot find a ride with a taxi, sober friend or family member. Public transportation may be another option to consider. Don’t let your friends drive drunk, either. Officers suggest helping them with making other arrangements to get home safely, including taking their keys if you must.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department also encourages everyone to report drunk drivers seen on the road. Just let a passenger make the call or wait until you can stop safely to call, if you’re alone, to prevent distracted driving.
Let’s take another look at it, by the numbers.
.01 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Zero Tolerance for those under age 21
.01 One percent of parents believe their teens binge drink. Twenty percent of teens admit binge drinking.
.08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) DUI in California
.16 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Enhanced Penalty in California
.25 One fourth of teen boys admit to riding with an impaired driver in the past year.
.33 One third of all fatal teen car crashes are alcohol-related. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens.
.33 One third of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal collisions are 21-24, the group with the highest rate of drunk driving.
.5 Half to three quarters of drunk drivers with suspended licenses for DUI continue to drive.
.75 Three quarters of the fatal crashes between midnight and 3 a.m. involve alcohol.
.75 Three out of four drunk drivers in fatal crashes failed to wear their safety belt.
2 Alcohol-related crashes are twice as likely on weekends as during the week.
4 DUI drivers are 4 times a likely to be male than female.
6 Sobriety checkpoints to be manned by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
24 hours a day: Be extra cautious during the holidays about drunk drivers, say police.
36 people killed in California last year by drunk drivers during the winter holidays.
40 minutes: According to the CDC, an American is killed every 40 minutes by a drunk driver, on average.
80 times: According to one study, a first time DUI offender has driven drunk more than 80 times before being arrested.
644 DUI winter holiday arrests in San Diego County in 2008
887 DUI winter holiday arrests in San Diego County in 2009
1000 people die in America between Thanksgiving and New Years due to drunk driving, according to MADD.
1168 injuries in California during the 2009 winter holidays
1905 fatalities in the United States in 2009 caused by drunk drivers with .01 – .07 BAC
6000 people killed each year by teen alcohol abuse – more than all illegal drugs combined
10,859 fatalities in the USA in 2009 due to drivers with BAC of .08+
And the most important numbers of all: 411 to call Information for a taxi and 911 to report drunk driving.