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Drunk Driving Warnings Heeded, Statistics Indicate

DUI: California Highway Patrol arrests are half what they were in 1990. Laws, education and lower tolerance for the crime are credited.


Drunk driving arrests by the California Highway Patrol continued their long-term decline last year, pushing levels to half of what they were in 1990.

CHP officers arrested 79,460 people for driving under the influence in 2001. The previous year they made 81,383 arrests.

The number has fallen annually since 1990, reflecting an overall drop in drunk driving resulting from a multi-pronged national offensive, officials say.

Laws have been toughened. Public education campaigns about the dangers of drinking and driving have become commonplace. And society's tolerance of drunk driving has been decreasing.

"There's an entirely different attitude about people consuming alcohol and how they're going to get home that you didn't see before," said Tina Pasco, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 16, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Drunk driving--An article in the California section Tuesday about a decline in drunk driving contained figures that were mischaracterized by the Los Angeles Police Department. Accidents, not arrests, declined from 3,744 in 1993 to 2,758 in 2000. Arrests also dropped, from 15,671 in 1993 to 11,262 in 2000.

Studies have shown that license suspension or revocation, alcohol treatment and education programs, and impoundment of drivers' cars to be effective, said Steve Haskins, spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Intoxicated drivers who kill also face increasingly stiff penalties that keep repeat offenders incarcerated longer. A law enacted in 1997, called Courtney's Law, allows judges to sentence repeat drunk drivers to 15 years to life in prison.

"The Legislature has been steadily tightening up the laws," said CHP Commissioner Spike Helmick. "And I think society as a whole has finally gotten the message that it's not acceptable."

But Helmick also cited another factor--one he is not happy about.

There are more drivers, and there is more for CHP officers to do, but agency staffing is essentially the same.

"Our people are stretched," Helmick said. "Fewer people patrolling means fewer people are arrested."

The number of drivers in California has increased with the state's population. In 1990, the state had about 30 million people and 19.9 million licensed drivers, according to the CHP. In 1999, the population was 34 million, with about 21 million licensed drivers. Over the same period, Californians also drove more, from 259 billion miles in 1990 to more than 300 billion miles in 1999.

Statewide, the total number of drunk driving arrests declined from 193,250 in 1997 to 183,955 in 2000, according to the DMV.

In Los Angeles, drunk driving arrests declined from 3,744 in 1993 to 2,758 in 2000, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

"DUI enforcement is one of our highest priorities because drunk drivers cause a lot of grief," said Sgt. John Pasquariello, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Other cities where such arrests have dropped include Oakland, where they fell from 658 in 1998 to 552 last year.

In San Jose, however, arrests rose, from 2,427 in 1998 to 3,349 last year. Sgt. Steve Dixon, spokesman for the San Jose Police Department, said he couldn't explain the increase but believed that the region's growing population during the high technology boom was a factor.

"This is the Silicon Valley. We have a lot of drivers up here," Dixon said.

Although the problem of drunk driving has hardly disappeared, the long-term drop in CHP arrests has been dramatic. The agency cited twice as many people for driving under the influence in 1990 as it did last year.

Statistics compiled by the state Department of Motor Vehicles similarly show a plunge in DUI arrests by all law enforcement agencies from 1990 to 1999, the last year for which the agency has figures.

Nationally, a 1999 U.S. Justice Department study found that the number of drunk driving arrests fell nearly 20% from 1986 to 1997.

Alcohol-related fatalities are also down significantly nationwide, falling 25% from 1990 to 2000. However, the 2000 figures were higher than the previous year.

In California, alcohol-related traffic deaths and injuries followed the same pattern, declining generally but creeping up in 2000 for the first time in more than a decade. Figures for such deaths in 2001 will not be available until spring.

Statewide, 1,233 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2000, 21 fewer than in 1996, but 5% more than in 1999.

Though the increase was not especially significant statistically, it caused concern. "It is a wake-up note to pay attention," said Carol Thorp of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

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