DUI arrest rates in Truckee holding steady
Last week, President Clinton signed a bill that lowers the blood alcohol content limit for drivers under the influence of alcohol to .08 percent, a 20 percent reduction from the former requirement nationwide.
The change will not affect drivers in California, however, because the minimum driving under the influence (DUI) blood alcohol level was already .08 percent.
California reduced the DUI blood alcohol level to .08 percent Jan. 1, 1982.
Since then, the number of DUI arrests statewide, misdemeanor and felonies, began a steady, continuous and significant climb for several years.
According to the California Department of Justice, there were 6,232 felony DUI arrests in 1982, which eventually grew to 12,948 arrests in 1990. Similarly, there were increases in the number of misdemeanor DUI arrests since 1982, but by a smaller margin.
In 1999, the Department of Justice reported that since 1990 the number of misdemeanor and felony DUI arrests decreased by half.
According to the 1999 California Department of Motor Vehicles Annual report of the DUI management information system, the number of alcohol-involved fatalities in California decreased correspondingly, from 2,754 in 1987 to 1,100 in 1997, a reduction of 60 percent.
“Word has gotten out [in California] and more people are taking heed of that,” said Alison Olsen, a program director with the Nevada County Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery Center in Truckee. “You don’t have to be a derelict to get a DUI.”
Olsen said she assists about 160 multiple offenders per year, and between 400 and 500 first-time offenders.
Not all of the people Olsen sees received their DUI in Truckee. The state of California requires that if you have a California driver’s license and receive a DUI in another state you are still required to take a California DUI program. You can take DUI counseling anywhere in California, not necessarily where you received the citation.
Olsen said she does not feel Truckee has a DUI problem, but she does see several multiple-offender DUI cases.
“When I first arrived here in 1994, I saw about 40 multiple offender clients. Now we have about 80 active clients, which include people moving out and moving in,” she said. “The number of people we treat is typical although it may be slightly higher because people come here to recreate, which includes drinking and relaxing.”
Nevada County Sheriff’s Office recorded the highest number of DUI arrests per month since 1997 this May, with 28 arrests.
“One of the officers here has the highest arrest rate for DUIs in Nevada County,” said Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Gary Jacobson. “He did receive an award this year from the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).”
Capt. Jacobson said approximately 55 percent of DUI arrests by the Sheriff’s Office are people with Truckee addresses.
The role of Nevada County Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery Center is twofold: to help reduce the number of traffic fatalities and injuries on the road and to help people whose lives have been negatively impacted by alcohol.
The substance abuse center provides all the education and counseling and advises the clients, to some extent, about the law.
People cited for driving under the influence must attend a DUI program depending on their blood/alcohol level. The degree of the program varies. At the lowest level, the Wet Reckless program consists of 12 hours of education and counseling. This may be assigned to drivers who have the minimum blood alcohol level of .08 percent.
The next level, which is most common, is the First Offender program. This is a three-month program that works out to approximately 34 hours of education, group and individual counseling.
If the blood/alcohol level of the DUI driver is greater than .12 percent, the judge may order a six-month program. The judge is required to order the six-month program if the driver has a blood/alcohol level greater than .20 percent. And in many cases, the judge may bump the program up to nine to 12 months.
“I’ve had people come in with a blood/alcohol level of .30 percent and better,” Olsen said.
Multiple DUI offenders are required to take the 18-month education and counseling program, which extends beyond 80 hours. The cost of the program is more than $1,500, which is compiled with fines, court fees and perhaps the cost of a lawyer.
“Up here people have to get around by car. What happens if they drive without a license is the situation gets worse and worse,” Olsen said.
“Between 60 and 70 percent of first-time offenders don’t have alcohol problems,” Olsen said. “They just don’t know what it takes to reach the legal limit. They become very embarrassed, which can translate to any number of things. Some people are arrested with their kids in the car, and with .08 percent, people don’t feel impaired to drive. They see it as a real injustice.”
Olsen said the California Highway Patrol has determined that impairment begins at a .05 percent blood alcohol level.
“The first thing always to go is judgment,” she said. “One of our counselors says, and I agree with him, that it’s easy to get a DUI. One of the things we’re seeing is that many of our clients have gotten sicker. Recidivism is our concern. They know what it takes to get a DUI but they are out there drinking again,” she said.
“We have assessments to determine early, middle and late stages of alcoholism. We are seeing more alcohol with our clients. The level of treatment isn’t enough for what they need,” she said.
Olsen added that 75 percent of clients say they were surprised by their blood/alcohol level.
“People tend to get stuck in old guidelines of a beer an hour. But that is not always accurate. Men and woman are different, fatigue can be a factor,” she said.
The increase and subsequent reduction of DUI arrests and alcohol related fatalities since 1982 may foreshadow what will happen nationwide once the required blood/alcohol level for driving under the influence changes.
The state of California, in that regard, may serve as the prototype. While alcohol-related fatalities and injury accidents have decreased significantly, some agreed lowering the blood/alcohol level is not a complete solution.
Olsen conceded that lowering the blood/alcohol level will allow a larger population to be arrested while driving under the influence, which may allow people who have more advanced stages of alcoholism and who choose to get behind the wheel to evade the law.
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