According to a recent article in the North County Times , DUI related deaths in the Los Angeles area have been drastically reduced due to increased police patrol and consistent DUI checkpoints.
The number of drunken-driving fatalities in California reached a 58-year low in 2010, marking the largest single-year drop in such deaths in 14 years, according to a new report. People who were under the influence of alcohol were a factor in traffic crashes that killed 791 people last year on California’s roads, down nearly 17 percent from the 950 killed in 2009, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Highway Safety Administration. The report didn’t mention other drugs that can impair driving ability.
In San Diego County, 49 people were killed last year in crashes involving a drunken driver, compared with 76 people in 2009, according to the NHSA. In Riverside County, 59 people were killed last year in such crashes, down from 69 in 2009.
State transportation officials credited sobriety checkpoints and campaigns that encourage people to report drunken drivers for the declines in deaths statewide since 2005.
The efforts haven’t led to more arrests —- the number of which has decreased slightly in California recent years —- but they have provoked an important shift in social norms, said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety.
“It’s not that people are being arrested and shying away from it (drunken driving), it’s that they’re being exposed to the fact that DUI is now socially unacceptable, along with it being dangerous, and law enforcement is out there looking for it,” Cochran said. He said alternate explanations for the drop in drunken driving-related deaths, such as increasing legal costs or punishments, or fewer people on the road, can’t adequately explain the big drop.
Legal costs have been increasing roughly in line with inflation for the past 10 years or so, he said, and drops in the number of miles traveled per day has rebounded almost completely since it dropped 3 percent and 4 percent in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
“We think that what we’re seeing is more of a change in root behaviors,” Cochran said.
Drop linked to checkpoints
And traffic checkpoints may be at the heart of the change, officials said. They point to a large body of research that has shown a correlation between increases in sobriety checkpoints, and decreases in alcohol-related crashes.
The Office of Traffic Safety doled out $16.8 million in federal money last year, which funded 2,553 checkpoints —- 47 percent more than the 1,740 checkpoints conducted in 2009, officials said.
Those who question the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints noted that they generate fewer arrests than other types of DUI enforcement efforts, and there’s no proof that they reduce drunken driving.
“Realistically speaking, there’s no evidence that shows that checkpoints are the reason for the reduction in drunk driving,” said Escondido resident Bill Flores, a retired assistant sheriff and member of the human rights organization El Grupo. “There’s no cause-and-effect relationship that has ever been shown.
“That doesn’t mean that it’s not there —- it might be there —- but there’s no evidence to show that it (a cause-and-effect relationship) is happening,” he said.
Supporters say prevention is the main goal of sobriety checkpoints, with enforcement secondary. They say the highly visible checkpoints work because they increase the real or perceived risk of being arrested for DUI —- a factor that research has shown people consider before drinking and driving.
“We think it reinforces the good people (those who don’t drink and drive), it keeps the regular folks in line, and it’s beginning to scare the drunks,” Cochran said.
Police in Escondido said it appears the checkpoints have had the desired effect.
In 2005, Escondido had 182 alcohol-related collisions that caused an injury or death, and it ranked No. 1 —- or the city with the most such collisions —- among 50 California cities with similar populations, according to the Office of Traffic Safety.
In 2008, there were 138 such collisions, and Escondido’s rankings slipped to No. 2 of 55 similarly populated California cities, according to the office. In 2009, there were 99 collisions, and the city’s ranking fell to No. 7 of 56 similarly populated cities.
Escondido police Lt. Tom Albergo said police conducted nine sobriety checkpoints in 2005, 14 in 2008, and 21 in 2009.
“Numbers don’t lie: This is working,” Albergo said. “We used to be No. 1, and now we’re not.”
“The protests have really been helpful to us, because the key to a good checkpoint is education and awareness, and the fear among those who drive after drinking that they might get caught,” he said.
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