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DUI Checkpoints Ahead

Laguna Beach’s infamous ranking as the state’s capital for drunk-driving collisions among small towns does come with fringe benefit: a windfall for the town’s police department to assist with lowering the frightful statistic.

This week, the department announced receiving a $32,000 grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety, enough to fund three checkpoints in 2013, said Laguna’s police Lt. Jeff Calvert. There were none this year because the city failed to win a grant, he said.

Wasting no time, the department plans a checkpoint on Friday, Dec. 21 at an undisclosed location as well as roving saturation patrols on Saturday, Dec. 22.

Last month, the department received another $90,000 OTS grant to conduct saturation patrols and is also involved in Avoid the 26, referring to 26 law enforcement agencies in the county that mobilize to conduct sweeps during notorious party weekends such as New Year’s Eve, Cinco de Mayo and the Super Bowl, Calvert said.

Staffing a driver checkpoint requires 15 civilian and sworn personnel, where officers check the validity of driver’s licenses and warn those behind the wheel against driving while impaired. The 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. checkpoints coincide with statistically when the most DUI related collisions occur, Calvert said.

“In addition to being a deterrent, it’s also educational,” he said, adding that well-publicized checkpoints are more effective at keeping imbibers off the road than saturation patrols, which typically result in more arrests.

Fortunately, no one died as a result of a collision involving a drunk driver this year in Laguna, Calvert said. But in the three previous years, 85 people suffered collision-related injuries attributed to drunks, 18 percent of the 475 total traffic injuries that occurred on local roads since 2009, he said. By comparison, though, in that year alone, Laguna police made 390 DUI arrests.

Having one for the road can prove costly even if no one suffers injury, starting with the $195 tab for spending a night in the city’s jail if convicted. From court costs, fines and attorneys’ fees, to traffic school, probation and higher insurance premiums, expect to pay $10,000 or more for the experience, said Insurance Information Network spokesman Tully Lehman. Local criminal defense attorney Barry Simons charges about $5,000 to defend a first time offender, who also is likely to lose their driver’s privileges temporarily. And a conviction, won by prosecutors in 75 percent of arrests, will remain on a driver’s record for a decade, resulting in higher premiums along the way, Lehman said.

Laguna’s statewide record for alcohol-related collisions among 98 small towns of 25,000 or less reflects its allure to visitors, who can quadruple the population on a sunny weekend. And it’s easy to see why so many are pulled over trying to leave town after 9 p.m. About 110 establishments hold licenses in Laguna to pour or sell liquor, including temporary ones such as the Sawdust Festival, police Capt. Jason Kravetz said.

Drunk and drugged driving remain among the nation’s deadliest crimes. In 2010, 791 people were killed and over 24,000 injured in alcohol and drug-impaired crashes in California, according to an OTS report. Even so, speeding continues to be a greater killer, cited in 922 deaths in the same year, the same report notes.

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