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California drunk driving fatalities inch up after 5 year decline

San Bruno police officers stop cars at a DUI checkpoint on Nov. 27, 2006 in San Bruno, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
San Bruno police officers stop cars at a DUI checkpoint on Nov. 27, 2006 in San Bruno, California.

Every holiday season people are reminded that drunk driving is dangerous, deadly and expensive. Law enforcement agencies toss out the number of people arrested last year or number of people who died in crashes involving drugs or alcohol.

It can get confusing very quickly when you start splicing up the numbers into cities, counties, alcohol-impaired versus alcohol-involved. But Chris Cochran at the California Office of Traffic Safety said the state’s DUI trends had been going down for years - but ticked up this year.

“From roughly 2005 through 2010, things were getting better across the board,” he said.

Statewide, the number of people who died in crashes caused by a drunk driver – had been on the decline during that time period. Here are the stats:

2005: 1,298

2006: 1,272

2007:  1,132

2008:  1,025

2009:  924

2010:  774

Cochran said the all traffic deaths trend down during major recessions. Also, the Office of Traffic Safety declared 2010 the year of the DUI checkpoint, funding more DUI checkpoints that year than in any other, he said. It was in-your-face-anti-DUI campaigning.

But after 2010, the numbers stalled out and ticked up:

2011:  774

2012: 802

“In the last couple of years there’s been a reversal,” Cochran said. “Things have turned around to the bad side…a little bit…a little bit.”

Cochran said state traffic safety officials like it when the number is below 800 and even better – drop every year, little by little.

Some data that’s available on the OTS website show that the number of people killed and injured in a crash in Los Angeles County where alcohol was involved dropped from 2008 to 2010. In 2008, there were 7,450 victims killed or injured because of alcohol-related crashes. In 2009, there were 7,171 victims and in 2010 there were 6,511. (Data since 2010 is not available on the website yet.)

Though statewide, there has been a slight increase (28 more fatalities because of drivers over the legal limit in 2012 than in 2011), Cochran thinks people are getting the message. It’s become uncool to drive drunk.

“We’re seeing many more instances of people using designated sober drivers willing and enthusiastically,” he said.