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December 30, 2009 > Consequences of drinking and driving

Consequences of drinking and driving

By Dustin Findley

Every year, local law enforcement agencies participating in the Avoid the 13 campaign reach out to educate citizens on a crucial public-safety issue.

"Avoid the 13 is a partnership of 14 law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County who join forces during peak holiday periods to fight drunk-driving," Milpitas Police Chief Dennis Graham reported.

The campaign began in the 1970s when drunk-driving began to be publicized as a verifiable danger. In the 1960s, there was little public information about such behavior and the legal consequences were less severe. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) helped draw attention to the problem of driving while intoxicated.

In Santa Clara County, 13 law enforcement agencies were originally involved in Avoid the 13. San Jose State University police has since joined the program. California now has more than 40 "Avoid" task forces covering 98 percent of the state's population.

Driving-under-the-influence (DUI) deaths have declined throughout the California for three consecutive years, falling by 9.1 percent between 2007 and 2008. Sobriety checkpoints, funded by the Office of Traffic Safety will increase from 1,469 in 2008 to an estimated 1,740 this year.

Santa Clara County has many enforcement efforts planned thru January 2, 2010 including five sobriety checkpoints in Milpitas, Palo Alto, San Jose and Morgan Hill and "saturation patrols" by nearly every law enforcement agency in the County. Extra officers will work on holiday nights to watch for drunk drivers.

The Gilroy and Morgan Hill police departments will deploy a joint, task-force operation in southern areas of Santa Clara County while a multi-agency task force including Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos police departments will operate in northern areas.

"Unfortunately, much work remains to be done," said Graham.

In 2008, there were over 1,000 alcohol-related fatalities statewide and over 28,000 people were injured in traffic-related collisions. Over 200,000 drunk drivers were caught and booked in California, with over 7,000 in Santa Clara County.

"So, obviously, many people are not getting the message 'Don't drink and drive,'" said Graham.

People should designate a driver, who doesn't drink, to drive them home. Citizens should call 911 if they suspect someone is driving under the influence and keep a safe distance from possible drunk drivers without trying to intervene; and always wear a seatbelt.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr described the legal consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Hiring a lawyer could cost $1,500 plus expenses and time off work or school to attend court, potentially a day for each court appearance.

If convicted, the fines and fees for the first DUI offense will amount to thousands of dollars. This includes $1,700 in fines, restrictions on their license or its suspension and paying for a year-long, drinking-driver program to keep the driver's license or being allowed to drive to work only. If the vehicle is impounded and towed, there are additional fees.

According to Carr, in Santa Clara County there is jail time. It may be possible to serve during the weekends for the first offense. Imprisonment could last 30 days for subsequent DUI offenses.

"Driving with a suspended license is a new crime with new penalties," explained Carr.

Three misdemeanor DUIs in 10 years makes the next DUI a felony, subject to state prison.

"So, please be careful on the roads this holiday season as well as at every other time throughout the year," said Carr.

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