Nearly 3,000 people were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence last year in Santa Barbara County, and the California Highway Patrol is teaming up with a host of other law enforcement agencies in launching an increased effort to prevent more fatalities and injuries as a result of DUI.
At a news conference Monday in the Council Chambers at Goleta City Hall, CHP Capt. Jeff Sgobba outlined the extended patrols, with one message to county drivers.
“Don’t drink and drive, and never drive distracted,” he said.
For the next 10 months, extensive patrols will span the entire length of Highway 154 and on Highway 101 between the interchange at La Cumbre Road and El Capitán State Beach on the Gaviota coast. A recent federal grant will provide funding for 1,500 hours for officer overtime and 350 hours of sergeant overtime, according to Sgobba.
The heightened enforcement began Dec. 1, and officials say it will continue through Sept. 30, 2012.
Officers will also strictly enforce the use of seat belts, child safety seats and drivers caught texting while driving.
Officials from the District Attorney’s Office, Santa Barbara County Fire and the City of Goleta, plus county Supervisor Janet Wolf and Assemblyman Das Williams also gathered Monday to issue their support for CHP’s new campaign.
Williams urged people planning to drink over the holidays to think ahead.
“Drunk driving is always an avoidable situation,” he said, and urged those who haven’t been drinking to offer to drive people who have been.
Residents can expect to see more officers on the road, with patrols and checkpoints in Goleta, Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara.
DUI-related accidents killed nine people in the county and injured 248 people last year, according to CHP Deputy Jeff Farmer.
“It’s 100 percent preventable, and people are still choosing to drive,” he said.
Farmer said patrol officers look for drivers who weave, tailgate, drive too fast or too slow, or who screech to a halt at stops among the list of criteria when deciding whether to pull someone over on suspicion of DUI. He encouraged anyone who sees these signs or any other manifestations of dangerous driving to call 9-1-1.
Wolf urged all county residents and visitors to use common sense and caution before getting behind the wheel.
“Be responsible,” she said. “By doing that, you will arrive alive at your destination.”
San Marcos Pass resident Ted Adams said he has been driving the pass since 1958 and that he has seen a lot of improvements on the road, but said it has encouraged people drive faster. In addition to drinking alcohol and driving, Adams said many people on prescription drugs overestimate their ability to drive safely.
Sgobba said people often give family and friends the benefit of the doubt, when they should take away their keys for everyone’s safety.
“Have the courage to take the keys away from someone who has had too much to drink,” he said. “Once you’re on the roadway, it’s too late.”