SLO County receives grant to battle drunken driving

San Luis Obispo County is again the recipient of a multiyear state grant designed to combat drunken driving by increasing sobriety checkpoints and adding patrols.

The three-year, $450,000 grant will pay for police officers’ overtime to work various checkpoints and conducting other enforcement efforts.

The San Luis Obispo County Avoid the 14 campaign relays the message that sober driving means motorists will avoid getting arrested by any of the 14 participating law enforcement agencies in the county, officials said. It sets countywide goals for enforcement to meet each year, such as reducing or maintaining the number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries from the previous year.

“If you’re going to go out and drink, get someone to drive for you,” Arroyo Grande Police Department Cmdr. Chuck Gerhart said. “Because if you go out on the road after drinking, we’re going to do everything we can to stop you from negatively impacting the community.”

Local agencies, but perhaps not as many as today, have participated in similiar campaigns for about seven years so far, Gerhart said. It’s been a state campaign since the 1970s.

“If we make one DUI arrest, then that whole checkpoint is worth it,” Gerhart said. “One arrest is a positive impact on the community because you never know if that person is going to make it home or if they’ll be the next person to hit a carload of people on the road.”

Task force agencies this year include the Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles police departments; the CHP; California State Parks’ Hearst Castle and Oceano Dunes divisions: Cal Poly and Cuesta police departments; San Luis Obispo County Probation; the Sheriff’s Department; and the department of Alcoholic Beverage and Control.

The new grant expires in September 2012.

In 2008, there were 12 deaths in the county from alcohol-related vehicle accidents, 217 people injured and 2,739 people arrested for alcohol-related offenses. That’s down from 2007, when 17 people in the county died in alcohol-related vehicle accidents and 280 people were injured. That year 2,440 people were arrested for alcohol-related offenses.

Those statistics, which came from local police this year and last, don’t represent instances caught at checkpoints, but provide a snapshot of alcohol-related instances from the calendar year.

The funding is also slated to pay officers for warrant and probation sweeps on repeat DUI offenders and to check people who drive away from the courthouse after being told not to drive by the judge.

Individual agencies can apply for smaller-scale campaign grants to conduct their own added DUI enforcements, Gerhart said, which supplement the county effort.

Enforcement Targets Countywide

Using 2008 statistic comparisons, this year’s campaign goals are: