Our View: DUI fight needs to find real results

September 14, 2012 

It's easy to become complacent about drunken driving, because it happens so frequently. But we do so at our own risk.

Every day, drunken drivers are taking a deadly toll. Sometimes they become the victims; too often they hurt or kill innocent people, including children.

Our state's capital has one of the highest rates of deaths and injuries in alcohol-related collisions, but the problem is pervasive throughout the valley, including Merced County.

Two studies are under way to try to identify ways to reduce the carnage.

In a 2009 test in Sacramento, vehicles of repeat DUI offenders were immediately impounded. The results could be available within a year.

In July 2010, a pilot program in Sacramento, Alameda, Los Angeles and Tulare counties began requiring DUI offenders to install ignition interlocks -- devices that force drivers to blow into an alcohol detector to start their cars. The state Department of Motor Vehicles is to report to the Legislature by January 2015, but other studies suggest the interlock devices can reduce repeat offenses by two-thirds.

We also need to make sure that there are effective education and counseling programs. In 2010-11, nearly 154,000 DUI offenders were enrolled in state programs and nearly 131,000 were judged to have successfully completed them. But only five counties offer intensive 30-month programs for those with three or more DUI convictions.

Police need to be vigilant, but many departments are stretched thin. And laws can do only so much.

It has to start with each one of us. If we go out drinking, we should make sure there's a designated driver, or make plans to use transit. We can't look the other way when a tipsy friend or relative tries to get behind the wheel. Bartenders, waiters and their bosses must take responsibility and not serve intoxicated customers.

Thanks in part to the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, deaths in alcohol-related crashes were almost halved between 1982 and 2010. Yet, that still means more than 10,000 Americans were killed in 2010 -- an average of one every hour. That included 791 Californians.

It is well worth the effort -- and well within our ability -- to prevent more lives from being needlessly lost.

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