Editor's note: This is the third installment of "On Duty," a column by officer David Singer of the California Highway Patrol's Central Division office in Fresno. This twice-monthly column will advise readers on how to be safe drivers and will explain how CHP officers handle problems they face on the roads every day.
If there is a topic that has been communicated to the motoring public frequently, it has to be driving under the influence, or DUI.
Is there anybody out there who has not heard about or doesn't understand the possible consequences of DUI?
Mostly likely you, good reader, have. So, it begs the question, why am I writing about it? If we all understand the risks, why is it still so common?
If there is one thing the CHP focuses on, it is getting the impaired driver off the road. DUI enforcement is a critical function of the CHP.
We aggressively pursue our goal of protecting human lives through traffic collision prevention, and DUI is often a primary cause of collisions.
For us, every traffic stop is a DUI investigation. We apply a continuous and vigilant enforcement effort directed toward the detection and apprehension of persons who may be under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or medications.
And if these statements apply to the day shift, it goes double for the graveyard officers. CHP officers know the destruction caused by impaired driving, and we work hard to prevent it.
One of the most subtle problems caused by impairment is questionable judgment. Good sense can be so impaired that drivers often say "I'm fine to drive, I just live a few blocks away" or "I've had the least to drink, so I'll be the designated driver."
Good people occasionally make poor decisions because they didn't have a plan to get home safely.
In addition, there is a common myth that your blood alcohol content has to be .08% to be arrested for DUI. However, a person is considered "under the influence" of alcohol, drugs, etc., when his/her physical or mental abilities are diminished to such a degree that he/she no longer has the ability to drive a vehicle with the caution and characteristics of a sober person under the same or similar circumstances. In other words, bad driving combined with "impairment" means you can be arrested for DUI, even if your blood-alcohol level is below .08%.
It goes without saying, impairment often causes horrendous tragedies. Sadly, I could list multiple fatal collisions for this year alone.
The CHP's stated goal is to prevent loss of life, injury and property damage. Getting an impaired driver off the road is removing a dangerous traffic hazard.
However, despite all of our best efforts — enforcement, billboards, television commercials, radio spots — DUI continues to be problematic.
One of the reasons is many people still consider a traffic collision to be an accident. Even in the case of a drunken driver causing severe injury or death, many people still consider it an accident.
Granted, the driver probably didn't plan on injuring or even worse, killing someone, when they started drinking, but they also probably didn't plan a safe way to get home after they had been drinking. It is this kind of thinking, that a DUI-related traffic collision was an "accident," that needs to change.
As usual, I am calling upon you to make a difference. We all need to treat DUI the way it deserves to be treated — as a crime. Not just an embarrassing mistake or even worse, bad luck to be caught.
It is a crime and it is combated through education and peer pressure. That's right — peer pressure can be used for good. Make it your business to ask the right questions, to preplan a night out, to organize a ride home, do whatever it takes to make sure our friends and family do not drive impaired, period.
If you are embarrassed to ask these questions, ask yourself, why? Would you want a drunken driver out there on the roads with you? Putting your life and the lives of your friends and family at risk?
We don't have to be rude or judgmental, we just have to care. Let everyone know you care and maybe you can make a difference. I am writing this article to make a difference, but I could use some help.
Officer David Singer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.