PD Editorial: Don’t become a drunken driving statistic

A quick perusal of Press Democrat news reports so far this month turned up five auto accidents in Sonoma County attributed to drunken driving.

That's almost two DUI crashes per week - and we're only counting the crashes serious enough to warrant coverage in the paper or online.

The news accounts included an 88-year-old pedestrian killed by a suspected drunken driver and a fiery collision on Highway 101 that sent five people to the hospital. In addition, a woman was sentenced to a year in jail after going over an embankment with her children in the car last year. It was her second DUI conviction.

In each case, the driver was a local resident.

Five accidents is a small sample, so that may be a coincidence. But it's consistent with a report in last Sunday's paper based on an analysis of arrest data from the California Highway Patrol's Santa Rosa- area office, which found that, contrary to a popular misconception, most people arrested for drunken driving aren't tourists. They're local residents whose last drink came at home, at a bar or in a restaurant.

Staff Writer Nick Rahaim reviewed 3,155 CHP arrests between 2015 and 2017, comprising about 21 percent of DUI arrests across the county over the three-year period.

A little more than half of those drivers answered questions about where they had their last drink, and they were five times more likely to be coming from home than from a winery or brewery.

The 5-to-1 ratio also held for restaurants and bars vs. wineries and breweries.

Does this mean wineries and breweries don't pose a risk? Of course not.

Alcohol-related accidents result in 29 deaths on an average day in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And drinking and driving is inherently unsafe whether a local or a tourist is behind the wheel.

Still, Sonoma County, as Rahaim wrote, is a drinking destination. There are 425 wineries and about two dozen breweries. They are cornerstones of the local tourism economy, and some of their patrons imbibe too much before hitting the road. CHP data also showed correlations between casinos and parks and drunken driving.

For us, the big takeaway in last Sunday's article was the big numbers.

A chart accompanying the article listed 2,000 DUI arrests in Santa Rosa between 2015 and 2017, 839 in Petaluma, 469 in Rohnert Park, 426 in Sebastopol, 394 in Healdsburg, plus almost 800 more in other jurisdictions. The countywide total is higher still: Officers from the Napa-area CHP office patrol much of the Sonoma Valley, but arrest statistics aren't broken out on a county-by-county basis.

So there is ample reason for stepped-up patrols around alcohol-related events, as well as routine enforcement, such as the DUI checkpoint Friday night in Santa Rosa.

This is the first weekend of summer, a season of long days and recreation often accompanied by wine, beer or a cocktail - and, given recent changes in state law, cannabis (a case involving a fatal marijuana-related crash went to court in Sonoma County this past week).

If you're going to indulge, be responsible: let someone else drive. Don't be a statistic - and don't be responsible for a tragedy.

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