Like Cocktails, the Messages in Winter Holiday DUI Death, Wreck and Arrest Data are Mixed

The good news from the winter holiday anti-DUI enforcement period in Orange County is there were no impaired driving related fatalities during that time. The bad news is more suspected drunk or drugged drivers were arrested than the year before. Better those 971 folks (compared with 836 the year before) were stopped before doing serious or deadly damage, but this also proves the showy, highly publicized operations are not achieving their No. 1 stated goal: keeping DUI motorists off roads to begin with.

"Avoid the 38," the anti-DUI task force composed of 38 Orange County law enforcement agencies, reports its crackdown that relied on sobriety checkpoints, special saturation patrols that focus on streets known for DUIs and routine patrols popped the 971 between 12:01 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14, and Tuesday, Jan. 1.

The task force vows more such operations, which are funded through state and federal grants, will be held during Super Bowl weekend in February and St. Patrick's Day in March.

Besides "Avoid the 38," individual police agencies in Orange County issued press releases about their anti-DUI enforcement campaigns, including Costa Mesa Police, which reported no deaths compared to one the previous holiday season and five the year before that, while DUI-injury collisions also dipped. Meanwhile, Newport Beach Police revealed not one arrest was made during its holiday checkpoint.

The California Highway Patrol also reported no deaths on the Orange County roads it patrolled over the long New Year's holiday, but the CHP did make 71 arrests in this region, compared with 57 during the same holiday period a year before. Of course, with Jan. 1 falling on a Tuesday, the holiday weekend was longer than a year ago, too.

Meanwhile, 41 people died in crashes over the holiday weekend statewide, the highest New Year's death toll since 2005. It's unknown at this writing how many of those drivers were drunk or drugged, but the upward trend in fatalities does alarm incoming county Supervisor Todd Spitzer, according to a column he wrote in the Orange County Register.

Spitzer acknowledges that annual state numbers show an overall double-digit drop over the past two years, but without citing any actual data he claims "the numbers in Orange County, alarmingly, are steadily on the rise."

To that end, he writes of hosting a "DUI Summit" in February to toss around preventative ideas with repressntatives from law enforcement, the Automobile Club, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the county Health Care Agency.

"The solutions currently in place (check points and saturation patrols, DUI media campaigns, responsible beverage service, social host ordinances)," Spitzer writes, "are just not enough."

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