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DUI patrols planned through the holidays

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — ‘Tis the season to be merry — and sober.

South Shore law enforcement agencies have one drunken driving checkpoint and a series of saturation patrols planned during the busy holiday season.

The measures are part of a countywide task force funded through the California Office of Traffic Safety.

“After hearing about the dangers of drinking and driving time after time, most people have gotten the message that if they’re planning on drinking, they should always plan a safe way home,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Sgt. Shannon Laney in a statement. “Sadly, millions of Americans still think they are invincible and regularly choose to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink.”

With 24-hour drinking available just across the state line, drunken driving remains prevalent at the South Shore, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Jeff Gartner.

Officers from CHP’s South Lake Tahoe Office have made nearly 300 arrests of suspected drunken drivers this year, compared to about 265 last year, Gartner said.

Highway Patrol officers have also responded to 33 alcohol-related collisions this year, compared to 19 at this point last year, Gartner said.

The bump in alcohol-involved traffic incidents comes at a time when drunken driving deaths are on the decline regionally and nationally.

Alcohol-related driving fatalities dropped 7.4 percent between 2008 and 2009 for the entire country, according to the Century Council, a national nonprofit group funded by distillers to fight drunken driving and underage drinking.

Nevada saw the biggest decrease, 35.8 percent, during that time period. California has seen a drop in DUI related deaths for the past four years, with the latest 7.2 percent drop mirroring the national average.

But an increase in the number of people killed in traffic collisions who show involvement in drugs has recently drawn concern from federal officials.

Of the 21,798 drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 who were tested for tested for drugs, 3,952 tested positive, according to researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Drug use among fatally injured drivers increased from 13 percent in 2005, to 15 percent in 2006, to 16 percent in 2007 and to 18 percent in 2008 and 2009.

Researchers warned that drug involvement does not mean the driver was impaired or that drug use was the cause of the crash.

Years of field observations and empirical evidence show a strong relationship between blood alcohol levels and impairment and crash correlation, but the same evidence is not available for drugs, said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland in a statement.

He said continuing to conduct research to better understand the correlation between drug levels and their impact on crashes.

“While it’s clear that science and state policies regarding drugs and driving are evolving, one fact is indisputable. If you are taking any drugs that might impair your ability to drive safely, then you need to put common sense and caution to the forefront, and give your keys to someone else,” Strickland said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s drugs or alcohol — if you’re impaired, don’t drive.”

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