Petaluma police are crediting a decrease in drunken driving arrests over the holiday season to its efforts to increase patrols and awareness about the dangers of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
The department was one of several Sonoma County law enforcement agencies participating in a DUI crackdown from Dec. 15 to Jan. 1. During that time, Petaluma police officers arrested 13 people for driving under the influence, according to Traffic Sgt. Jeremy Walsh.
That’s down from 25 arrests during the same time frame last year, a reduction Lt. Tom Lyons attributed to more public awareness about the perils of driving under the influence and the increased use of ride-hailing platforms such as Uber.
“Through social media and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the raising of the penalties for DUIs, it’s worked … The younger generation has got the message that drinking and driving is not cool, it’s dangerous,” Lyons said.
Over the past five years, the department has seen an average of 21 DUI arrests during its annual holiday crackdown. This year, Petaluma police planned a total of four DUI checkpoints and 11 DUI patrols, operations funded by a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety, Walsh said.
Across Sonoma County, CHP officers arrested 55 drivers during the 18-day enforcement period, agency spokesman Jon Sloat said. Data about arrests made by CHP officers in the Petaluma area was not available.
In 2017, the CHP rang in the new year with 48 arrests during its enforcement period, with countywide numbers showing “no real spikes or abnormalities” over the past five years, Sloat said. On average, the county has logged 53 arrests each year since 2013, he said.
“There are more parties, more get-togethers and a lot of people have time on their hands … Maybe there’s nothing to do, so why not have a few drinks or smoke or a combo,” Sloat said.
In 2018, as the sale of legal cannabis is ushered into parts of Sonoma County, law enforcement officers are gearing up for more stoned drivers hitting the roadways. Agencies are already broadcasting a straightforward directive: “Drive high, get a DUI.”
Petaluma Police Department and CHP officers are undergoing specialized training to recognize signs of drug use, and both agencies have experts on staff who have undergone two weeks of additional training.
While the legal limit for blood alcohol content is clearly defined at .08 percent, there’s no threshold for marijuana. Sloat said officers are aware of objective signs, though drivers often contend that they’re not inebriated.
“People think marijuana doesn’t impair you, and to that we ask ‘Why do you smoke it?’ Because you want to get high,” Sloat said.
No arrests have been made for driving under the influence of marijuana so far this year in Petaluma, Lyons said.
(Contact Hannah Beausang at firstname.lastname@example.org.)