Law enforcement will be "out in force" through New Year's day in an attempt to crackdown on impaired drivers, according to Merced police.
Officers are stressing that a DUI can result from more than just alcohol.
"While alcohol-impaired driving remains the most serious problem on our roadways, the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes with other impairing substances in their system keeps rising," police said in a social media post. "Faced with more instances of (driving under the influence of drugs), state and local officials are reiterating the message that 'DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze.' "
The crackdown on impaired driving is especially important, police said, because beginning New Year's Day adults will have the right to consume marijuana. Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, was passed by voters in 2016.
During the New Year's weekend, the Merced Police Department will partner with other police departments, Merced County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol to stop impaired drivers, police said.
“The legalization of cannabis does not change the effect it has on the central nervous system," CHP Acting Commissioner Warren Stanley said. "Driving under the influence of cannabis and other drugs remains illegal."
It has taken more than 35 years to convince the vast majority of the public that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous, illegal and socially unacceptable, according to Rhonda Craft, director of the Office of Traffic Safety.
“With more dying on our roadways every day, we can’t afford to take that long when it comes to driving under the influence of prescription medications, marijuana, illicit drugs and even some over-the-counter medications," she said in a statement.
From 2005 to 2015, the percentage of drivers impaired by substances other than alcohol who were in fatal crashes has risen from 26.2 percent to 42.6 percent, according to police.
A driver could also be arrested if under the influence of prescription medications like sleep aids, tranquilizers, barbiturates, opiates or anti-depressants. Even over-the-counter allergy or cough medications can result in a DUI arrest, police said.
Impaired driving is suspected to have resulted in two fatal crashes in the past few days.
A driver, identified by the CHP as Mukai Masayoshi, 34, of San Jose, suffered major injuries in a crash on Tuesday in a 2013 Nissan sedan around 6 p.m. on Highway 152 near Flanagan Road, between El Nido and Dos Palos, the CHP reported. The passenger, 20-year-old Maya Isabelle Thone of Pacifica, was pronounced dead at the scene.
CHP investigators said “drugs appear to be a contributing factor in this collision” and said Masayoshi was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI.
Two days earlier, Ismael Mota Zavaleta, 30, also of San Jose, was arrested on Sunday night after a crash near Upper Cottonwood Road claimed the life of a 66-year-old woman who the CHP said was a passenger in Zavaleta’s car. The woman, Rafaela Chavez-Olivera, died at that scene.
Law enforcement encourages drivers to download the "Designated Driver VIP," or “DDVIP,” free mobile app for Android or iPhone. The app helps find nearby bars and restaurants that feature free incentives for the designated sober driver, from free non-alcoholic drinks to free appetizers and more, according to police.
Funding for DUI operations is provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.