With the proliferation of ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft, along with robust social media campaigns warning of the life altering risks associated with driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol, California drivers are getting the message.
Don’t drink and drive.
Don’t use drugs and drive.
“The consequences are real,” said Pasadena Police Lt. Mark Goodman, who oversees the traffic unit, which is responsible for the department’s DUI enforcement and prevention programs. “People can die from driving under the influence. But the other motivator is financial. A DUI nowadays will cost tens of thousands of dollars.”
In 2017, 1,120 people were killed in alcohol-involved crashes on California roads, according to statistics published by the state’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).
In continued efforts to raise awareness, the Pasadena PD staged a DUI checkpoint the night of June 28, along Fair Oaks Avenue, two blocks from Old Town, Pasadena’s restaurant and night life hub.
The operation was configured with two rows of vehicles passing through the checkpoint and coming to a complete stop while officers checked drivers for signs of possible intoxication.
Four hours into the operation, more than 600 vehicles had rolled through the checkpoint without a single driver being arrested for a DUI or any other reasons.
“The numbers have been steadily decreasing in terms of arrests,” said Goodman, who has been in charge of the traffic division for almost years. “I think its directly attributable to all the ongoing education by a bunch of different agencies to discourage people from drinking and driving.”
But not everyone is getting the message, especially were drugs are concerned, legal or otherwise.
Of nation’s 37,461 traffic deaths in 2016 – the most recent year where data is available – 16.2 percent involved drugged drivers, according to the OTS.
According to the OTS, the percentage of drivers using cannabis, prescription and other drugs has been on the upswing.
Aside from alcohol, cannabis is also the most frequently detected drug in drivers who are involved in collisions, OTS data shows.
The recreational use of cannabis has been legal in California since 2017.
“I see a lot more, especially these days, of people smoking it in their car while they are driving,” said Pasadena Police Off. Craig Blumethal, a certified drug recognition expert. “I’ve seen people taking bong hits while they are driving down the street. I pull up next to them and they are smoking a marijuana pipe. During the last year, I’ve seen that more than I can count on my hands.”
All Pasadena PD field officers have been trained to detect marijuana impairment.
Officers look for signs that include a lack of convergence in eyes, which means eyes won’t be able to converge in a single point,” Blumenthal said.
A person under the influence of marijuana may also experience a faster pulse, elevated blood pressure and have dilated pupils, he said.
“With alcohol is there is an objective standard of .08 (percent),” Blumenthal said. “Right now for marijuana, there is no minimum set for analysis of your blood. It’s real important for our people to articulate the impairment.”
Off. Veronica Burris, who has worked her share of sobriety checkpoints during her 18 years with Pasadena PD, understands the trepidation drivers experience when passing through the checkpoints.
“It is scary,” Burris said. “I get it. They are approaching the lights. They’re approaching all these officers. At least for me, I try to put them at ease so it is not a negative contact.”
Burris was pleasant and amicable to virtually every driver she checked during the June 28 checkpoint.
“I’d say today about 95 percent are very happy and they understand,” Burris said. “They say, ‘Thank you for doing this. I’m glad you guys are out here.’ I think most of the time people understand why we are here.”