The California Highway Patrol, firefighters and other emergency services personnel gathered Wednesday afternoon to remind the community to be safe on the road this holiday season.
The CHP will be cracking down on unsafe drivers during the upcoming holidays, a time of wet weather, increased travel and drinking. Seatbelts need to be buckled, officials said, and drivers must be sober and focused. DUI checkpoints will be deployed throughout the county, and every available CHP officer will be on the road.
“You do not want to see any of these people in your rearview mirror,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava, who, as a former deputy district attorney, has seen thousands of DUI-related cases. The total number of DUI fatalities in the country last year is comparable to the total number of military personnel killed in the Vietnam War, he said.
The message was especially urgent for the CHP, in light of the crash on Wednesday in the Ventura area. CHP Officer Anthony Pedeferi, who had stopped a vehicle, was seriously injured when a pickup truck plowed into the SUV he had pulled over on the northbound Highway 101. The 20-year-old driver of the SUV was killed and the 20-year-old pickup driver was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Pedeferi is in “serious but stable” condition.
“It’s absolutely preventable,” said CHP Capt. Jeff Sgobba of the Goleta headquarters.
Statewide, the number of DUI collisions totaled almost 38,000 people in 2006, an increase of about 2,000 collisions from 2005. In Santa Barbara County, 645 collisions were reported for 2006, an increase of 128 from 2005 statistics. Of the crashes in Santa Barbara County, 45 were fatalities.
“Comparatively speaking, the increases aren’t a lot,” Sgobba said. “But it’s still bad. Our goal is to have zero collisions.”
Aside from the life-changing event of being involved in a DUI accident, Nava said, the monetary costs are enormous. A conviction of DUI results in at least $5,200 in fines, skyrocketing insurance rates and untold other costs related to the accident.
The news conference also marked the end of the first year of Avoid the 12, a multijurisdictional campaign targeting DUI drivers. It’s a state- and federally-funded three-year zero-tolerance program focused around holidays, which will result in the arrest of any driver suspected to be under the influence, even if they are under the legal limits.