More than 240 drivers who got behind the wheel after consuming a little too much holiday cheer ended up behind bars recently, as an annual holiday driving under the influence crackdown rolls from Christmas into New Year’s Day in Santa Clara County.
And South County drivers thinking of tempting fate before the calendar hits 2012 should take heed: Officers from the Gilroy and Morgan Hill police departments are setting up a DUI and driver’s license checkpoint Thursday in Morgan Hill – in hopes of taking a few more intoxicated motorists off the road.
“The police department has a zero-tolerance policy regarding DUI. If you are driving drunk, you’ll be arrested,” said Sgt. Chad Gallacinao of the Gilroy Police Department.
Checkpoints are also scheduled Thursday for Sunnyvale and San Jose’s unincorporated Burbank area, near Bascom Avenue and Interstate 280. Additional DUI patrols are expected in Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Los Altos and Cupertino.
It’s all part of the “Avoid the 13” campaign, named for the number of participating agencies. Through Saturday, law enforcement officers countywide arrested 243 individuals on suspicion of driving under the influence during the anti-DUI effort’s first nine days – 43 fewer arrests than a year ago, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department
But with Christmas Day figures yet to be announced and New Year’s Eve fast approaching, police could see a feared spike, especially since both of those holidays again span weekends this year. Without the expectation of heading to office the following day, some holidays partygoers could get a little more festive and consume a little more booze, Gallacinao said.
“Not only do you have the Christmas holiday parties, but you also have New Year’s. And New Year’s Eve falls on a Saturday, which may be a little more problematic,” Gallacinao said. “There’s high tendencies of people consuming alcohol, and we see a rise in DUI incidents and DUI accidents.”
County law enforcement agencies have conducted several other DUI-focused operations this year.
Officers countywide arrested 141 people for driving under the influence during the Fourth of July holiday period between July 1 and July 4 – up from 94 arrests in 2010. At least 133 were arrested during the Memorial Day holiday period of May 27-31.
An end-of-summer/Labor Day campaign netted 439 arrests between Aug. 19 and Sept. 5.
Also playing a factor this year is the absence of saturation patrols in Gilroy. In past years, thanks to grant funding, GPD has been able to send additional waves of officers to thwart drunken driving during the holidays. But Gallacinao said that money went instead to funding Thursday’s regional checkpoint in Morgan Hill.
Through Christmas Day, Gilroy police had arrested at least six individuals for driving under the influence, though that number is likely higher because it’s possible some of those arrests turned into narcotics violations depending on what officers found during the traffic stop, Gallacinao said.
Since Dec. 16, there have been two DUI-related accidents in Gilroy, according to the GPD, including one involving a 17-year-old driver whose car collided with another vehicle. The 17-year-old was booked into GPD then released to his parents, Gallacinao said.
GPD made two DUI arrests Christmas Eve, according to a police press report.
Thursday’s checkpoint will run from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. near the intersection of Tennant Avenue and Caputo Drive, said Sgt. Troy Hoefling of the MHPD. At least eight officers are expected at the checkpoint. Morgan Hill averages two to three checkpoints a year, and officers usually arrest between one and five DUI offenders each time. Since the “Avoid the 13” effort began, police in Morgan Hill have arrested 18 people for DUI, he said.
Despite the lack of financial backing for extra patrols, local police departments like GPD rely on hammering home awareness campaigns crafted by the California Office of Traffic Safety, which has pushed a “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” message.
“I hope people become more aware, and I’d hope to see a decline this year. But we’ll have to wait and see,” Gallacinao said.
He added, “In terms of the education side of it, we’re not only talking about stopping somebody from drinking and driving, but killing themselves and other people.”