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Amber Wheat
Amber Wheat
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Agencies Unite to Put an End to Drunk Driving in Sacramento County

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Drunk driving is a real problem in Sacramento. We hear about DUI collisions, injuries, and fatalities, but when it doesn’t effect us personally, it is easy to forget that many real people and real families are suffering from the irresponsible actions of a few. Well, Sacramento is finally taking a stand. With recent articles about lost loved ones and new plans to combat reckless driving, maybe the county can get people to start caring.

This year a public awareness campaign by the Teachable Moment Foundation is focusing on educating the masses on drunk driving. They hope that Every37.com can make the consequences of choosing to drink and drive a reality for some people. They will utilize TV, radio, the internet, and guerilla marketing. The Sacramento Police Department is embracing the campaign as well.

Thanks to the efforts of the founder of the Teachable Moment Foundation, Dr. Leon Owens of Mercy San Juan Medical Center, drunk driving has steeper consequences in Sacramento County. If it is not a first offense, the vehicle can be impounded (we all know what a headache that is). And more interventions are taking place in custody. Counselors are brought in to ask questions and explain things in way that may make it more personal to the offender. They also offer referrals to treatment programs.

Another new law makes it illegal for prior convicted DUI offenders to have any alcohol at all in their systems. No legal limit for them, they just aren’t allowed to have any amount. It seems like a harsh rule and one that doesn’t necessarily make sense. People over the age of 21 have a right to drink alcohol. If someone makes a mistake in their youth, are they forced to worry about having a glass of wine with dinner? Are they tested even if they are in an accident that wasn’t their fault?

There are on average 600 DUI offenders on formal probation in Sacramento County. The worst of the worst require intense supervision to keep them off the road. In most cases they have suspended licenses, so they shouldn’t be driving at all. They are picked up for driving, but they seldom get caught with a fresh DUI offense. Again, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. People need to be able to drive to work, or their kids to school and soccer practice and whatnot.

The California Highway Patrol supports a new bill that may be the solution to many problems. Assemblyman Mike Feuer introduces a bill to install ignition-interlock devices in the vehicles of DUI offenders. Basically, it’s a breathalyser and the engine won’t start unless the driver is under the legal limit. Now I can already think of a few ways to get around it, but Feuer believes it will at least be a deterrent since the offender has to pay for installation and maintenance. He states that it has worked for other states and that 983 people died in California last year because of collisions involving drunk drivers. He hopes to start a four-county pilot run beginning July 1, 2010. I hope that Sacramento County will be one of the four.

The CHP is also focusing on young drivers this year. They are offering a two-hour course every month at the Massie Court office titled “Start Smart”. It will focus on understanding the responsibilities of driving and the consequences of poor choices. Comments on the SacBee website range from outrage at the CHP budget to gratitude from parents and grandparents. It is said that people who are upset with budget problems are taking this opportunity to lambast the CHP when they are trying to do some real good. One comment states “If this class save the life of one driver, because a ten attended this class, then it is well worth it.” Another asks if she can require her kids to take it.

Start Smart is a good name for the training. Intelligence really is a factor here. If anyone, not just teens, stopped and thought about their actions before choosing to get into the vehicle, how many lives would that save?

As always, I hope you are one of the lucky few who have never been victims of drunk or reckless drivers. If not, you know where to find us. Be careful out there. I know it’s hard, but let’s hope for the best with these new programs and maybe next year the fatalities on the roads will have gone down.