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Roads safe for New Year traffic

By JASON ECK

Statewide, 10 people died in alcohol- or drug-related crashes from 6 p.m. Tuesday to midnight Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol reports, but no one was killed in alcohol-related crashes over the New Year's holiday in Tuolumne or Calaveras counties.

Three of the seven victims in the CHP jurisdiction were not wearing their seat belts.

Statewide, 687 Californians were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs over the two-day period.

In Tuolumne County, police officers and sheriff's deputies officers arrested seven people, and four people were arrested in Calaveras County over the two-day period, while the CHP arrested two people in Tuolumne County and three in Calaveras County.

The Highway Patrol did not have statewide arrest figures for the same period for 2001, because the New Year's holiday enforcement period lasted longer last year — from Friday through Tuesday.

But Tom Marshall, a Highway Patrol spokesman who works in the agency's Sacramento headquarters, said arrests were up considerably this year statewide. Officers all over the state made nearly double the number of DUI arrests on New Year's Eve, arresting 534 people this year compared to 283 on New Year's Eve 2001.

The Highway Patrol said the point is clear:

"It says that some people are not getting the message," Marshall said. For years, law enforcement and other groups have been encouraging people to choose designated drivers or call cabs, but not to drink and drive.

Some Sonora New Year's revelers left the driving to others.

A dozen people caught rides home from members of Sonora Foursquare Church.

The Rev. Steve Wildman said he decided to offer the service, called Operation Safe Ride, after two teens died in a drunken driving crash a year ago.

Wildman said the accident prompted him and other church members to offer an alternative to people leaving parties or bars after drinking.

CHP officer Wills said the church's efforts are "greatly appreciated" because it helps bring down potential arrests, injuries and deaths from DUI-related accidents.

Wills said other organizations have offered ride programs in past years.

New Year's Eve competes closely with Labor Day and Independence Day as the busiest time for DUI arrests, Marshall said.

The number of arrests can vary depending on where each holiday falls in the week.

While the Highway Patrol is focusing some of its time and resources on homeland security these days, Marshall said the problem of drunken driving has not gone away and officers are spending the same amount of time looking for traffic violations.

In fact, the Highway Patrol has received federal grant money to work extra hours and to help with a public campaign to get the message out about seat belt use.

A similar effort is needed to remind people about the dangers and consequences of driving while intoxicated, Marshall said.

Contact Jason Eck at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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