Are you driving on a suspended license? Are you thinking of absconding from probation supervision after a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Do you have a DUI warrant for your arrest? These are questions the Santa Barbara County Probation Department wants nearly 700 convicted DUI offenders and another about 350 who have absconded from supervision to consider.

Four years ago, the department’s DUI Supervision Program first went into effect, targeting these offenders. Funding for the innovative program has been renewed for another year by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Probation Department’s DUI Supervision Program will focus on the Santa Maria region where about 51 percent of the county’s DUI offenders are supervised. The selection of this region for additional DUI-related interventions is also indicated by the disproportionate number of alcohol-involved collisions resulting in injury or deaths. Of 103 like-sized California cities, Santa Maria is ranked second in terms of the rate of these collisions according to the OTS Collision Rankings.

The department will target the highest-risk DUI probationers in the Santa Maria region for increased field supervision and office contacts, DUI program verification activities, searches and routine alcohol testing.

“The devastation drunken drivers inflict on victims and their family affects the entire community and prompted the department’s pursuit of this grant,” Chief Probation Officer Patti Stewart said. “The DUI Supervision Program will assist in preventing further unnecessary injury or loss of life. Drunken driving offenders will be held accountable through the utilization of interventions that have proven to be effective in reducing DUI recidivism while sustaining an important focus on treatment.”

Drunken driving is one of America’s deadliest crimes. In 2009, more than 10,800 people died in highway crashes involving a driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. California data for 2009 shows that 950 died in Alcohol Impaired Collisions, a 7.6 percent reduction in deaths from 2008.

“Everyone in California should be heartened with these figures,” said Christopher Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. “But as encouraging as this is, we can’t let up on the efforts to promote and enforce traffic safety. Far too many are still losing their lives or being severely injured on our roadways.

“These figures represent more people making it home safely and alive each day. But to keep this trend going, we will continue to strive to meet our vision — toward zero deaths, every one counts.”

— Heather Bennett is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Probation Department.