The holidays are upon us, and with them comes a seasonal uptick in imbibing – and the corresponding police checkpoints and public awareness campaigns to discourage people from drinking to excess and getting behind the wheel.
Underlining the public relations efforts, California lawmakers since the mid-1980s have imposed stiffer penalties for driving under the influence, such as more jail time, higher fines, license revocations and increasing the use of ignition interlocking devices.
Whatever the reasons, DUI arrests have steadily dropped in recent years.
Seven years ago, there were almost 215,000 arrests for driving under the influence, an increase of almost 11,000 from 2007.
Since then, DUI arrests have declined every year. In 2013, the most recent year for which statewide totals are available, there were 160,388 arrests for driving under the influence, a rate of 651 per 100,000 licensed drivers. That is down from 188,327 in 1998, a rate of 908 per 100,000 licensed drivers.
0.08 Blood-alcohol content level, or higher, that is evidence of impaired driving
0.16 Average blood-alcohol content of 115,983 people convicted of driving under the influence in 2012
But while arrests have dropped, there has been a recent increase in the number of fatalities linked to drunken or drugged driving. In 2010, there were 1,417 deaths linked to alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. In 2013, there were 1,699.
Aaron Wade, the California program manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said there is no clear reason for recent years’ disparity between arrests and fatalities.
“We just hope and wish people would make better decisions,” Wade said. “It is getting better, but until there are no more victims … these campaigns from law enforcement and MADD are not going to stop.”
Kings County is the county with the highest percentage of DUI arrests per capita in the state with 15.8 arrests per 1,000 drivers, more than double the state average. It also is one of the counties to decline the least, going from 1,218 DUI arrests in 2009 to 1,113 in 2013, only a 7 percent drop, which includes a spike of 1,406 in 2010.
Fresno County, meanwhile, has led the way in the four-county region, with arrests for driving under the influence dropping by one-third since 2009, to 5,123 from 7,751 arrests. Tulare County, which also has a high per-driver arrest rate, and Madera County have each seen arrests decline by about 28 percent.
Tulare County is one of four counties in California that has been part of a 5-year-old pilot program that mandates the installation of ignition interlocking devices on the vehicles all DUI offenders, including first-timers. A report earlier this year by the Department of Motor Vehicles suggested there is little difference in repeat DUI offenses before and after the pilot program began, but the research continues.