A million-dollar federal grant is helping the California Highway Patrol nip drinking and driving in the bud, with the money funding California's Designated Driver Program through August 2010.
"There's no excuse for operating a vehicle after you've been drinking," said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. "Not only is it against the law, you're putting your life and the lives of fellow motorists at risk every time you do."
Last year in California, 1,112 people were killed at the hands of an impaired driver. In 2007 another 1,272 victims were killed under similar circumstances.
"We focus on community education," said Officer John Lutz of the CHP's Newhall office. "We talk to business owners about extended liability. We also teach them about driving impaired, which compromises the safety of anyone on the road. Everybody calls it 'drunk driving' but it doesn't take that much to impair the judgment and reactions of a driver and that puts everyone at risk."
Lutz said that an informed public makes for safer drivers on city roads and highways.
"I think the Newhall area of the CHP considers public information, education and safety awareness the key elements in providing safety and service to the communities it serves," he continued. "Partnership with the community and communication with the public are critical components in the process of achieving a decrease in the area's mileage death rate.
"Interaction through community events allows the area to provide safety information to the public regarding programs to reduce speed violations, proactive DUI enforcement efforts and improved occupant restraint. Targeted audiences are regularly informed and educated through presentations such as Start Smart, Right Turn, Keeping Everyone Safe and the Every 15 Minutes. The area strives to be an information resource for the public and the focused effort has made a significant impact on highway safety in our community."
According to the Department of Justice, 217,201 people were arrested statewide for DUI in California. Of those arrested, roughly 80 percent were male and 53 percent of the men were between the ages of 21 and 34.
"While the numbers of DUI fatalities has dropped in recent years, we still have a long way to go with young males," said Christopher Murphy, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. "This grant to the CHP gets the message of designating a sober driver right in front of that group."
A DUI conviction for a first-time offender could result in jail time, loss of license and fines and penalties of $13,500 or more.