Planning to have a glass of wine with your holiday meal? A cold beer over football? Perhaps, under a right granted in November by California voters, smoke a joint at home?
If so, beware of over-imbibing or using marijuana and driving, said state and local public safety officials.
With the holiday season underway, Sonoma County law enforcement agencies are ramping up patrols and checkpoints in hopes of preventing alcohol- or drug-related crashes, which remain the No. 1 killer on roadways statewide and across Sonoma County.
“Even though over the past 40 years, the percentage of crashes involving alcohol has actually gone down, we’re seeing a spike in drug-involved driving,” said Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety, which compiles statistics from every state on fatal crashes and arrests involving driving under the influence.
“We’re seeing an uptick in the use of drugs like opioids and medical marijuana, and with the use of recreational marijuana now legal, we’re anticipating this being a bigger problem this year and in the years ahead,” Cochran said. “We want people to know drugs and alcohol are dangerous things to mix with driving.”
While Thanksgiving is consistently ranked as the worst day for driving under the influence, festivities surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Eve are next in line.
“There tends to be more celebrating around these winter holidays — we call it the big three,” Cochran said. “There’s just more going on. It’s dark and it’s often rainy, and more people are on the roads.”
Cochran said state public safety officials are focusing efforts this year on a robust campaign educating the public about the dangers of using drugs and driving. Driving becomes even more dangerous when marijuana, opioids or sleeping pills are mixed with alcohol, officials said.
“We’ve been trying to inform people that they can get arrested and get a DUI for being drug-impaired just like a DUI involving alcohol,” he said. “We’re focusing on that because we’re seeing the use of drugs spreading across the country.”
Local law enforcement agencies, equipped to perform sobriety tests for both alcohol and drugs, are expected to deploy teams of extra officers especially on holiday weekends through the end of December, said officials with the California Highway Patrol and Santa Rosa Police Department. Already, departments are beefing up enforcement activity in response to other festivities, such as holiday work parties and football games.
“The whole month of December is packed with parties and other gatherings,” said Officer Kenny Ferrigno, a Santa Rosa police investigator who specializes in cases involving DUI. “We see a lot more people watching like playoff football games, drinking beer with buddies at bars, or kids are home from college and hanging out with their friends, or people are off work and families are just back together for the holidays.”
As of Nov. 30, Santa Rosa police have arrested 660 people for drunk driving or driving while on drugs, up nearly 11 percent from 2015, when police arrested 596 people, according to Sgt. Summer Black, who heads the traffic division for the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Two people have died in crashes involving drugs or alcohol, Black said.