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California's DUI deaths reach all-time low

December 13, 2011 | 11:55 am

The number of drunk driving-related deaths dropped to a record low in California in 2010, marking the largest single-year decline in DUI fatalities in the last 14 years, a new report says.

Alcohol was a contributing factor in crashes that killed 791 people last year on California roadways, compared with 950 in 2009, according to the report released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Transportation officials credit the increase in DUI checkpoints for the nearly 17% reduction in alcohol-related deaths in California, and for an overall nationwide decline in such deaths. 

The Office of Traffic Safety allocated $16.8 million in federal funds to law enforcement agencies to conduct 2,530 DUI checkpoints in 2010, up from the $11.7 million allocated for 1,740 checkpoints in 2009.

Trends show that DUI deaths in the state increased annually from 1998 to 2005 but have decreased every year since 2005.

"This marks a huge milestone in the fight against drunk driving," said Christopher Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. "While we are elated with these figures, we cannot back off from our ultimate goal toward zero deaths."

In Costa Mesa, police are moving away from DUI checkpoints and toward saturation patrols, which target impaired drivers, both as a cost-saving measure and because of direction from City Council.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi demonstrated to councilmembers that saturation patrols are more effective in catching drunk drivers, calling checkpoints more of an educational service.

“They just get a lot more drunks off the road,” said Councilman Jim Righeimer.

Saturation patrols require half as many police officers as checkpoints and allow officers to respond to emergency calls at other locations. Councilwoman Wendy Leece said the fit is better for the recently reduced police department.

Righeimer also took issue with the staffing levels and overtime needed to staff the checkpoints, arguing there were more cost-effective ways to deploy officers.

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-- Angel Jennings

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