Over the past several years, law enforcement agencies across Santa Barbara County and California have intensified their efforts to stop impaired driving and the fatalities that sometimes result.
The effort has proved dizzyingly effective, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announcing that DUI deaths in the state reached their lowest level ever in 2010. Statewide statistics are not yet available for 2011.
The state’s Office of Traffic Safety credited a record number of DUI checkpoints with helping the decline.
Peace officers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties said they are successfully cracking down on impaired driving with a combination of education, enforcement and high visibility.
Checkpoints are a key part of that, they say, as are county-wide holiday crackdown operations throughout the year.
Statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate Santa Barbara County had eight DUI-related traffic fatalities in 2010, down from 14 in 2009, 19 in 2008, 22 in 2007 and 11 in 2006. Those include only crashes that involved a driver with a blood alcohol level greater than .08, the legal limit for adults 21 and over in California.
San Luis Obispo County had five DUI traffic fatalities in 2010, compared to 15 in 2009, 10 in 2008, 13 in 2007 and 16 in 2006.
“I think some of the education is sinking in to some of the population,” said Sgt. John Ploetz of the California Highway Patrol.
He said he believes saturation patrols, where officers look specifically for drivers under the influence, are most effective.
“You don’t know where an officer is. They’re out actively looking for the impaired driver,” Ploetz added.
According to the Office of Traffic Safety, 2010 marked the largest single yearly drop of DUI deaths in the past 14 years for California. In that year, 791 people were killed in DUI crashes on state roadways, compared to 950 in 2009.
Office of Traffic Safety Director Christopher J. Murphy said in a press release that a major milestone had been reached in the fight against drinking and driving.
“While we are elated by these figures, there were still 791 lives, futures and dreams that will never be fully realized. We cannot back off from our ultimate goal — toward zero deaths,” he said.
Local law enforcement officers weighed in on the way they believed their agencies and enforcement programs were affecting the statistics.