More DUI arrests, but fewer accidents

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 2, 2013 

— DUI arrests were up over the New Year's holiday in the Merced area, although there were 50 percent fewer traffic accidents compared to the prior year, California Highway Patrol reported Wednesday.

Merced area CHP officers made 17 DUI arrests from 6 p.m. Friday until 11:50 p.m. Tuesday, compared to nine during the same maximum enforcement period in 2011.

During the same time frame, there were six collisions in 2012, compared to 12 from 2011.

There were no fatalities reported for 2012 or 2011 during the New Year's enforcement period.

Officer Jason Schoonhoven said that the trend indicates success in educating the public about the risks associated with drunk driving.

"Anytime you have the numbers cut in half like that, it's a success," Schoonhoven said. "It's a combination of getting the word out about making the right decision. Businesses and friends have also stepped up with calling cabs to prevent people from driving when they've had too much to drink."

From Dec. 21 to Dec. 25, Schoonhoven said, there were five DUI arrests in 2012, compared to two in 2011. Although there were no fatalities in either year, the number of collisions increased -- jumping from 11 in 2011 to 22 in 2012.

In the CHP's Los Banos jurisdiction, the number of DUI arrests and collisions dropped slightly during the New Year's holiday maximum enforcement period. There were two DUI arrests, compared to five in 2011. There were six collisions compared to eight in 2011, CHP officer Matt Pinero reported.

There were no New Year's Eve fatalities in the Los Banos CHP's area, compared to one in 2011.

During the Christmas holiday enforcement period, the Los Banos area's DUI arrests stayed the same -- five total -- but the number of collisions went up.

Pinero said there were 11 collisions in the 2012 Christmas enforcement period, compared to five in 2011, with no fatalities for either year.

This year, the CHP joined forces with 10 other law enforcement agencies in Merced County for the "AVOID the 11" campaign.

With a campaign running from Dec. 14 to Jan. 2, the 11 agencies stepped up efforts to stop drinking and driving by using sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols, court stings, warrant services and a multi-agency task force.

Merced police Sgt. Jay Struble said there were four DUI checkpoints in Merced County: two in Los Banos, one in the city of Merced and one in an unincorporated area near Winton.

Despite increased law enforcement efforts and stiffer DUI fines and consequences, Struble said, Merced County still has too many drunk drivers.

"Getting the message out is great, but it hasn't stopped the number of DUI drivers," Struble said. "However, I think 'AVOID the 11' was a successful campaign this year because it saved lives. Every drunk driver that's arrested (means) possibly at least one life saved."

Struble said Merced police arrested 11 people for drunk driving, with at least six alcohol-related accidents, during the New Year's enforcement period. There were 18 DUI arrests in 2011 in Merced, with no fatalities for either year.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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