Drunk-driving arrests and other signs of holiday intoxication on the streets have so far declined dramatically in the city, police say.
Only two arrests were made at a sobriety checkpoint last week in which 1,400 drivers were stopped. Last year, 2,200 stops were made and 16 drivers were taken into custody for allegedly driving under the influence.
Also, a special squad assigned to patrol Mission Viejo to look for drunk drivers has made less than a handful of arrests, said Sheriff's Lt. George Johnson.
"This year has been different than any of the past years," Johnson said. "The traffic was much heavier later in the evening, mostly because of shoppers. It was nearly midnight before we started seeing the party-goers.
"We weren't smelling booze or anything on the breath of an overwhelming percentage of drivers. There were a lot less designated drivers out there, too."
Johnson said the decline wasn't totally unexpected because there has been a gradual drop in drunk-driving arrests in the past few months. In September, sheriff's deputies arrested 91 people locally for driving while intoxicated, contrasted with 166 similar arrests in September, 1991.
"I think there are a lot of reasons for this, not all to do with law enforcement," Johnson said. "People are starting to listen to all the messages out there that warn about the dangers of alcohol. They're starting to listen to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), anti-drug messages and are maybe more cognizant about the health risks involving alcohol.
"In any case," Johnson said, "we're happy with the results so far this Christmas season."
The anti-drunk driving team in Mission Viejo will continue to patrol the streets through New Year's Eve, Johnson said.