On New Year’s Eve, checkpoints and free rides to prevent drunk driving

An Oakland DUI checkpoint during a previous New Year's Eve weekend. Photo by Henry Jones.

An Oakland DUI checkpoint during a previous New Year's Eve weekend. Photo by Henry Jones.

It may be hard to avoid champagne or other alcoholic beverages at celebrations this New Year’s Eve, but local law enforcement officials say you should do so if you plan to drive home afterwards—otherwise you are risking not only your own safety but also a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offense. “Even if you beat the odds and walk away from an impaired-driving crash alive, motorists should be aware that the financial and social consequences of a DUI can be devastating,” Oakland Police Department Lieutenant Sharon Williams stated in a recent press release.

During the New Year’s holiday period, over 20 law enforcement agencies in Alameda County will be conducting checkpoints or patrols to catch drunk drivers. Meanwhile, many local groups are offering options to help those who’ve drunk too much to drive find a safe way home.

On December 31, the OPD will be conducting DUI and driver’s license checkpoints from 6 pm to 2 am at undisclosed locations somewhere in the city.  Traffic volume and weather permitting, an OPD press release states, “all vehicles may be checked and drivers who are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs will be arrested.” Violators will face jail time, loss of their driver’s license and huge fines. The OPD’s objective is to “send a clear message—Drunk Driving, Over the Limit, Under Arrest.”

The “message” is also the tagline of a countywide crackdown on impaired driving called “Avoid the 21,” an anti-DUI program introduced in early 1970s. The campaign, which runs from mid-December till early January, initially involved 21 law enforcement agencies and is sponsored by the California Office of Traffic Safety and Alameda County Chiefs of Police Association. The latest data on the program’s website shows that so far 494 arrests have been made this winter. The OPD joined the program this December and has conducted at least three DUI checkpoints in Oakland, including one on Christmas Eve.

On New Year’s Eve starting at 6 pm, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) will also conduct what it calls a “Maximum Enforcement Period” and will send 80 percent of its officers on the road to combat impaired driving. The operation continues until midnight on January 2.

Drunk driving is one of America’s deadliest crimes. According to an OPD statement from October, throughout the nation over 10,839 people died in highway crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher last year, averaging one fatality every 45 minutes. In California, 950 people died in alcohol-impaired collisions in 2009.

Although the state had witnessed a 76 percent reduction on alcohol-related deaths in 2009—and the CHP’s figures this December confirms the same trend—“far too many are still losing their lives or being severely injured on our roadways,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, in the announcement. “We can’t let up on the efforts to promote and enforce traffic safety.”

Law enforcement officials believe that DUI checkpoints are a proven method for achieving for deterring people from drinking and driving. “DUI arrests can be embarrassing and expensive, but they’re easy to prevent,” said Williams in the OPD’s press release. “If you are drinking, hand your keys over to a designated sober driver, or call a taxi for a ride home. ”

In the East Bay, you may be able to follow Williams’ advice by getting a free taxi home on New Year’s Eve. To assist in the fight against drunk driving, Berg Injury Lawyers, an Alameda-based law firm, launched the “Safe and Sober Free Cab Ride Home” program which will be offered from 10 pm on December 31 through 4 am the next morning. People in Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley can call Veterans Cab at (800) 281-4488 to request a ride home as long as the value of that ride would have been under $35.

BART can also be an option if you live near a station. Although some stops will be skipped in San Francisco, regular service will be extended until 3 am on Jan 1 and there will be more police officers and BART staff throughout the system.

If you don’t want to leave your car somewhere else, there’s a way to get it home for free as well. AAA, a California-based insurance company, announced that it will offer a service called “Tipsy Tow” to drivers in Northern California from 6 pm on New Year’s Eve until 6 am the next day. The company will send a truck to tow your car home with a limit of ten miles. If you have friends who need a ride, they can be taken to your place too, as long as there’s room on the truck.

“New Year’s Eve revelers have no excuse for drinking and driving,” proclaims the AAA’s announcement, which estimates that a first-time DUI conviction can cost up to $12,000.

For limitations of Berg Injury Lawyers’ free cab ride program, visit its website here.

For BART’s New Year’s Eve schedule, visit here.

Call (800)-222-4357 for a free tow home from AAA. You do not need to be a member.  More information here (you must put in your zip code to go to the information page).

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