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Huntington Beach ranks fifth in state for DUI injury crashes

April 9, 2012 | 12:27 pm

Huntington Beach police routinely patrol downtown in search of drunk drivers

Huntington Beach, which topped all California cities its size in alcohol-related injury traffic collisions in 2009, fared slightly better in 2010, according to statistics released in March by the Office of Traffic Safety.

The city ranked fifth out of 53 in its population category in 2010, the numbers showed. The city of Orange topped the list. Costa Mesa ranked fourth.

The 2009 numbers prompted city officials to crack down on drinking and partying, particularly in the three-block stretch of Main Street near the pier. The City Council placed restrictions on new bars – no beer pong or drink minimums – and police began tracking where people had their last drink before their arrests. The city placed special restrictions on the bars at the top of the list.

Huntington Beach has been in the top 10 for per-capita DUI accidents for more than half a decade, ranking sixth in 2005, eighth in 2006, seventh in 2007 and fourth in 2008. Numbers for 2011 are not yet available, Office of Traffic Safety spokesman Chris Cochran told the Huntington Beach Independent.

The drop from first to fifth was significant because of Huntington's size, according to Cochran. The office includes the city along with 52 others in Group B, which covers all California cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000.

"You're still in the bottom 10%," Cochran said. "That's still bad. But going from No. 1 to No. 5, you're going in the right direction."

A total of 136 people were killed or injured in alcohol-related collisions, down from 195 the year before.

DUI arrests were slightly down from the year before as well, with 1,274 compared with 1,558 in 2009.

Lt. Mitch O'Brien said any drop in alcohol-related accidents, however small, came as good news.

"If we've improved, then that's favorable for us," he said. "We're glad to see that happen. We take DUI enforcement very seriously in this city."

Cochran noted that the city had a higher DUI arrest rate than the state average, with the number of drivers arrested equaling 1.1% of the city's licensed drivers, compared with 0.9% for the state. Some of those arrested, however, may have been tourists or other non-residents.

"It sounds like they're writing a whole lot of tickets," Cochran said. "But there must be a lot of people drinking out there who aren't being ticketed."

The number of DUIs and alcohol-serving establishments in Huntington Beach has been a source of controversy in recent years, as resident groups have published reports outlining the effects of alcohol on crime downtown and the number of patrons who spill onto the streets after bars close.


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Photo: Huntington Beach police routinely patrol downtown in search of drunk drivers. Photo: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times