Every year around the holidays, the California Highway Patrol launches an aggressive statewide campaign to educate people about the dangers of drunk driving.
CHP officials in Ventura County began their campaign early this year by joining in an alcohol-awareness program aimed specifically at Spanish-speaking drivers.
Despite a drop in the overall number of alcohol-related traffic violations and accidents in Ventura County, CHP officials said a large percentage of the continuing incidents involve Latinos. With a large concentration of Latinos in Oxnard and Ventura, area CHP officers said they have decided to join in the statewide “El Protector” program.
The alcohol-awareness program, established by the CHP in the San Joaquin Valley in 1984, basically involves community presentations by Spanish-speaking officers as well as Spanish-language radio and television announcements and talk-show programs. In addition to Ventura County, the program was expanded this year to San Diego and Orange counties.
Sgt. Sam Berg of the CHP’s Coastal Division, which covers the region from Ventura County to Santa Cruz, said for the past three months that Officer Osiel Garza has been speaking to community groups and students in Ventura and Oxnard schools. Garza, who is now on vacation, has also contacted the owners of large farms in the Oxnard Plain to arrange meetings with Spanish-speaking field workers, Berg said.
Garza is the only CHP officer in the Coastal Division assigned to El Protector, Berg said. Garza is now trying to recruit CHP officials in Ventura County to help him reach the Latino community.
Officer George Orozco, who works in the CHP’s Ventura office, has agreed to work with Garza. Orozco said he recently participated in a question-and-answer program broadcast over a Spanish-language radio station in Oxnard.
He said many of the callers he spoke to did not fully understand state laws regarding drunk driving. Part of the confusion, Orozco and other officials said, is that there have been a number of changes in the law this past year.
For example, last January a new state law went into effect that reduced the amount of alcohol one can drink before being presumed legally drunk. The blood-alcohol standard dropped from 0.10% to 0.08%.
And beginning at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, a new state law will require most people arrested for drunk driving to spend a minimum of 48 hours in jail. Previously, the mandatory jail sentence was often reduced to a few hours, waived altogether or broken up into shorter terms because of jail overcrowding.
In July, another law went into effect that allows law enforcement officers to confiscate the licenses of suspected drunk drivers who refuse to submit to a sobriety test or when the test shows the individual to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08%. Those motorists whose licenses are taken away are given a 45-day temporary driving permit to allow time for revocation hearings by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
An offender’s license could be revoked up to six months for a first offense, a year for a second offense and two years for three or more offenses.
Meanwhile, CHP officials said overall drunk driving arrests in Ventura County have dropped from 3,278 in 1985 to 2,904 in 1989. There were 1,627 arrests reported in the first six months of 1990.
The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has also declined over the last four years, dropping from 56 in 1986 to 42 in 1989.
Sgt. Laurie Dunne of the CHP’s Sacramento office attributed the decline in alcohol-related traffic violations to tougher laws against drunk driving in the 1980s and an increasing perception that driving while intoxicated is socially unacceptable.
Dunne also credited the 1986 seat-belt law with reducing the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
This New Year’s Eve Ventura County CHP officials say they will have six extra officers patrolling highways and freeways looking for drunk drivers. The extra patrol officers have been used the last two weekends, CHP Officer T.J. McAllister said.
Over the Christmas holiday weekend, 43 drunk driving arrests were made, compared to 40 in 1989 and 44 in 1988, McAllister said.