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Law enforcement agencies nationwide are preparing for impaired drivers this holiday season. Whether you’re coming home from the office Christmas party, had a drink before embarking on a shopping trip, or even just a beer or glass of wine before making a quick trip to the market for the holiday meal, be warned that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) will be out in force through the New Year looking for persons willfully driving under the influence.

With December designated as “National Impaired Driving Prevention Month,” the LASD in Lancaster will conduct a Driving Under the Influence (DUI)/Driver’s License Checkpoint tonight from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. at an unknown location. The LASD has found that the deterrent effect of DUI checkpoints has become a proven resource in reducing the number of persons killed or injured in alcohol- or drug-involved crashes. Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSA) reveals that crashes involving alcohol drop by an average of 20 percent when well-publicized checkpoints are conducted on a regular basis.

Palmdale Sheriff’s station will also conduct a DUI/Driver License checkpoint tonight from 6 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The checkpoints are working statewide. Last year this time, holiday DUI arrests were down by 22 percent compared to 2011, according to reports by the Sheriff’s Department as well as the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Slogans such as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving,” “Avoid the 100” or “Click It or Ticket” (regarding seatbelts) remind motorists of the steep penalties involved in a DUI arrest, but, more importantly, have helped prevent needless tragedies that can occur in an instant when a drunk driver cannot navigate the roadway and ends up killing either themselves, their passenger(s) or an innocent bystander. The CHP and L.A. County Anti-DUI Task Force will enforce its campaign through Jan. 1, 2014.

“DUI checkpoints have been an essential part of the phenomenal reduction in DUI deaths that we witnessed since 2006 in California,” said Christopher Murphy, director of the LASD Office of Traffic Safety. “But since the tragedy of DUI accidents account for nearly one third of traffic fatalities in the area policed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, we need the high visibility enforcement and public awareness that checkpoints provide.”

On Dec. 15, the Sheriff’s Department announced that after a three-day period, officers representing 100 County law enforcement agencies had arrested 495 persons for DUI, up from 456 such arrests during the same time-span in 2012.

Local deputies will evaluate drivers passing through the checkpoint for signs of alcohol and/or drug impairment. Deputies will also check drivers for proper licensing, while striving to keep the stop as brief as possible. Specially trained officers will be available to screen those motorists suspected of drug-impaired driving.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), if you are detained and then arrested for DUI, expect a night in jail, license suspension and increased insurance costs. Add to these fines, DUI classes and other expenses that could make it your most expensive “high” ever. The LASD reports that a DUI arrest and conviction can cost from $9,000 to $24,000, including bail, legal fees, loss of work and court-ordered alcohol education programs. If a child riding with you is under 15 years, expect to pay even more fees.

The California Highway Patrol CHP) notes that if convicted, a first-time offender with a blood alcohol level below .20 percent in which no accident has occurred, could receive 96 hours to six months in jail; a second conviction could result in a 90-day to two years’ incarceration, and a third offense can result in up to three years behind bars. All of these convictions will result in a suspended license, and, if the person is over 21 years old, there will be mandatory alcohol education/treatment. Also, a third conviction will result in the loss of your vehicle and, once your time is served and fees are paid, you may be required have a state-mandated ignition interlock device installed on any future vehicle you have.

California’s “implied consent law” states that if you refuse to take a blood, breath or urine test, you will be fined, will lose your driver’s license and you could be sent to jail if you are arrested and convicted later of another DUI. At that time, you could lose your license for two years (if you have a reckless-driving or DUI conviction within the past 10 years).

One year ago, about 2,000 persons in Los Angeles County were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the Sheriff’s Department. This represented fewer arrests than the 2,433 made during the 2011 holiday season. The reduction was achieved via multiple DUI checkpoints throughout the county, as well as multi-agency task force operations and local, roving DUI patrols. The CHP made 20 DUI arrests over the New Year period (Dec. 30, 2011 through Jan. 2, 2012) last year. Statewide, the CHP made 1,181 arrests during the three-day New Year period, compared to 961 the previous year. The CHP also reported that 13 people died in traffic accidents last holiday season compared to 18 for the same period in 2011.

Two years ago, about 10,000 people were killed nationally in motor vehicle traffic crashes that involved at least one driver or motorcycle rider with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher. In California, DUI incidents accounted for 77 deaths.

“Over the course of the past three years, DUI collisions have claimed 49 lives and resulted in 893 injury crashes harming 1,113 of our friends and neighbors,” said Sgt. Joseph Jakl of the LASD Risk Management Bureau.

California has a general 0.08 percent blood alcohol content limit, a lower limit of 0.04 percent for drivers holding commercial drivers licenses, and a limit of 0.01 percent for drivers who are under 21. California law also allows for the impounding or forfeiture of vehicles under certain DUI conditions (ex. previous arrests, reckless endangerment of a minor, DUI in a school zone).

According to the NHTSA, checkpoints have provided the most effective documented results of any of the DUI enforcement strategies, while also yielding considerable cost savings of $6 for ever $1 spent. Based on collision statistics and frequency of DUI arrests, DUI checkpoints are placed in locations that have the greatest opportunity for achieving drunk and drugged driving deterrence.

“Saving lives, reducing injuries, traffic collisions and property damage is important work,” said Sheriff Lee Baca. “Every life is a life worth saving, and we will do our utmost to help keep the public safe.”

Among the DUI symptoms that law enforcement will be looking for include: turning with a wide radius; straddling the center or lane marker; weaving between lanes; slow speed (more than 10 mph below the speed limit); following too closely; braking erratically; turning abruptly or illegally and driving with your headlights off. Because today’s vehicles are virtually air-tight, sound-proof and offer numerous vehicle safety measures, an intoxicated driver—especially with the heater on—may feel as though he/she can navigate the road safely but end up in a “trance-like” state when approaching oncoming headlights. Most of the time these lights are seen as blurry. Officers have reported that when a squad car or emergency vehicle is pulled over with the red lights turned on, sometimes the eyes of a drunk driver seem to “zero in” on that image causing the driver to possibly slam into the rear of the emergency vehicle. The same is said for night road crews who rely on auxiliary lights.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has for 33 years worked to “Aid the victims of crimes committed by individuals driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to aid the families of such victims and to increase public awareness of the problem of drinking and driving,” according to its mission statement. By 1999, MADD expanded its work on preventing underage drinking and received help from both the state and federal government, corporations, educators, the media and through public-awareness campaigns which, the group estimates, may have saved the lives of 300,000 persons over the past three decades.

MADD has initiated various anti-DUI promotions in Southern California, among them its “PowerTalk 21,” which is a designated day for parents to speak with their children abut the perils of impaired driving, and “Power of Parents, It’s Your Influence” which seeks to shed light upon and bring about a reduction in underage drinking. The group also promotes a “safe holiday” planner in which party hosts can play an important role in keeping the roadways safe:

• Don’t rely on coffee to sober up guests. Only time can make someone sober. MADD suggests you cut off alcoholic beverages 90 minutes before the party ends,

• Don’t rely on physical appearance to determine if he/she has had too much to drink,

• Mixers such as fruit juice, sparkling and tonic water, and Ginger Ale don’t help dilute alcohol. Mixers can mask the taste of alcohol and may cause people to drink more,

• If hosting an office party at a hotel, arrange for discounted or complimentary rooms so that employees won’t be tempted to drive home drunk,

• Hire a shuttle or limousine service to provide transportation; also, the Southern California Automobile Association offers its “Tipsy Tow” service,

• When providing an open bar, make sure the bartender is experienced and won’t “over-pour” a cocktail or serve guests under the legal drinking age.

• If a guest has been drinking too much, offer to drive them home or arrange for a ride with another guest (who has not been drinking).

“MADD thanks the lawmakers who have authored legislation improving their state’s drunk driving laws,” said MADD National President Jan Withers. “MADD is thankful for their work on legislation requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers or legalizing the option of sobriety checkpoints—countermeasures proven to save lives and prevent injuries.”

Drunk driving laws in California trace back to the early 20th Century. Back then, the laws simply prohibited driving while intoxicated and required proof of a state of intoxication with no specific definition of what level of inebriation qualified. The first generally-accepted legal BAC statewide was 0.05. In 1938, the American Medical Association created a “Committee to Study Problems of Motor Vehicle Accidents,” while at the same time the National Safety Council established a “Committee on Tests for Intoxication.”

Nationwide, most of the laws and penalties were greatly enhanced starting in the late 1970s and through the 1990s, largely due to pressure from groups like MADD as well as Students Against Destructive Decisions. So-called “zero-tolerance” laws were enacted which criminalized driving a vehicle with a 0.01 BAC (0.02 for drivers under 21 years.)

In May of this year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all 50 states lower the benchmark for determining when a driver is legally drunk from 0.08 BAC to 0.05.

The NHTSA reported in 2011 that alcohol- and drug-related traffic collisions accounted for 40 percent of total traffic deaths nationwide. The Bureau of Justice announced in 2010 that law enforcement agencies made more than 2 million arrests for DUI. The NHTSA defines fatal collisions as “alcohol-related” if law enforcement believes the driver, a passenger or non-motorist (such as a pedestrian or pedal cyclist) had a BAC of 0.01 or greater.

“Everyone has a role to play in keeping our roads safe—from parents, schools, and businesses to faith-based and community organizations,” said President Barack Obama. “Together, we can teach young people, friends, and fellow citizens how to avoid a crash brought on by impaired driving. I encourage all Americans to designate a non-drinking driver, plan ahead for alternative transportation, or make arrangements to stay with family and friends before consuming alcohol.”