Unclassified Info: DUI stats don't explain bad driving habits

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we are below average yet again.

I was perusing the paper for my usual inspiration when I happened upon a little column regarding a sobriety checkpoint last week on Central Avenue in Glendale. Of the 950 vehicles stopped, six were arrested for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

That seemed like a rather low number to me, considering many people in Glendale drive like they are under the influence of something. But I suppose since “driving while entitled” isn't a misdemeanor yet, drivers are free to continue believing the road is their own personal property.

Considering how many people are out dining and drinking, I was curious how those six arrests stacked up.

To my surprise, I discovered in California, the average number of arrests for driving under the influence per 100,000 licensed drivers is 863, a little over .0086. At least it was in 2007, which is the most recent year the California Department of Motor Vehicles has on record. Evidently, the state statistician has spent the last four years stuck in line waiting for his registration.

To look at last Saturday's arrest rate at this particular sobriety checkpoint, it appears we fall below the state average. We came in at .0063. In my book, that's reason to celebrate. And reason for concern.

I know what you're thinking: What's the big deal? Well, when you factor it against the state average for DUI arrests per 100,000 drivers, our fair city of Glendale would average about 630 drunk drivers. We may be more animated than other cities around us, but according to the numbers, and I'm told they don't lie, we are not more intoxicated.

That's the good news.

But before we all jump in our cars and drive to our favorite watering hole for a celebratory cocktail, let's consider the other statistics about the drivers in our area. Last year, we ranked 191 out of 193 cities for having the worst drivers in the 2011 “Allstate America's Best Drivers Report.” Only Baltimore and Washington D.C. ranked lower.

In another finding, the California Office of Traffic Safety figures ranked Glendale as having the third worst overall record for pedestrian safety among cities with a population of 100,001 to 250,000.

To cross reference all that information in a more pessimistic light, we might say Glendale drivers can't blame alcohol for an inability to operate a moving vehicle with good judgment. Once again, those pesky numbers in the data seem to be saying that we are not all that great with cars — sober or not.

Perhaps we are distracted by something other than alcohol — like, say, a cell phone? Or we just don't care about the art of driving in a lawful manner. Either way, it's not particularly uplifting to know we are below the state average for drivers under the influence, and yet we can't seem to display enough common sense to stop being ranked as some of the nation's worst drivers who are a real threat to pedestrians.

It might be time for the collective group of individuals with the ability to drive to stop and think about what they are doing every time they get behind the wheel of 3,500 pounds of shiny metal thundering down the road.

If the average number of arrests at these sobriety checkpoints remains lower than average, it gives us all one less thing to blame for our city's poor driving habits.

With that said, I salute the Glendale Police Department for its efforts to maintain and improve the level of safety on our roads through its dedicated effort to enforce the law with checkpoints. By no means am I being critical of that.

I only wish the police could devise some kind of smartphone checkpoint, and that some bright young mind at Caltech would invent a device that would measure the amount of iPhone residue on a driver's fingers.

Then again, what would it say about our driving ability if we were also below that average?

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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