Already this holiday season, law enforcement agencies in Stanislaus County have arrested more people suspected of driving under the influence than they did last year. And New Year's Eve still lies ahead.
That's why authorities are warning partygoers to stay off the roads after drinking alcohol. It likely will lead to an arrest, police say, but it also can result in someone's death.
Authorities are spreading their message of "zero tolerance" this holiday season in news releases, radio show appearances, television commercials and on social networking sites.
"Please be forewarned: If you are caught driving impaired, you will be arrested," said Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk. "The police will accept no excuses and there will be no excuses."
Ceres police this year is coordinating the Avoid the 12 campaign, in which all 12 law enforcement agencies in the county work together to pull drunken drivers off the road. The campaign partners conduct sobriety checkpoints, deploy special patrols and carry out other operations throughout the year, especially on major holidays.
New Year's Eve will mark the end of the countywide campaign's 19-day enforcement effort, which included eight sobriety checkpoints, 17 saturation patrols, and a DUI warrant and probation sweep. A grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety pays for the campaign.
"Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can turn those happy times into tragedy in an instant," said Christopher Murphy, director of the state Office of Traffic Safety.
90 arrests thus far in campaign
Through Thursday, 90 people had been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. There were 81 arrests in the same period last year.
There will be roving saturation patrols tonight in Modesto, Ceres and Turlock; and Monday night in Modesto. The patrols are carried out by officers assigned solely to look for drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"The primary focus is to look for drivers who appear to be impaired," said Modesto police spokesman Lt. Rick Armendariz.
In 2011, there were 185 crashes and 704 arrests linked to DUIs in Modesto. Through October this year, there have been 155 DUI crashes and 934 DUI arrests.
Although there are more DUI arrests this year, Armendariz said, that doesn't mean there are significantly more people choosing to drive after drinking alcohol or using drugs. He said the Avoid the 12 collaboration allows authorities to spot more impaired drivers.
"We are putting more officers on the street, therefore we're taking more drunk drivers off the road," Armendariz said Friday afternoon, shortly before appearing on a local radio show to discuss this weekend's enforcement.
Aside from those working on behalf of the countywide campaign, law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, will have all regularly scheduled officers and deputies looking for drunken drivers.
Ceres Police Sgt. Chris Perry said drunken drivers typically never think about the consequences of getting on the road.
"No one ever thinks that their holiday celebration will end in jail, or worse, in a hospital or the morgue," Perry said.
Offenders also may lose their driver's license and be forced to deal with higher insurance rates or lost time at work, along with paying attorney fees and court costs.
Celebratory gunfire can kill
As if partygoers in the Modesto area didn't already have enough to worry about, it's common to hear a lot of celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department this weekend warned residents on its Facebook page: "Please do not use a firearm as part of your celebration. The bullet will come down somewhere and we do not want to see anyone get injured, and the use of a firearm could lead to someone going to jail."
Any law enforcement official working on New Year's Eve is familiar with the gunshots fired at midnight, said Modesto police Lt. Jolene Gonzales.
"It sounds like a war zone," Gonzales said.
Modesto Police Department instructs its patrol officers to seek refuge, such as a parking structure, until the gunfire stops. Gonzales said they usually receive calls a day or two later from residents reporting that a bullet fired into the air landed in their home, but nobody was hit.
"That's why we tell residents it can kill an innocent person," Gonzales said.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.
IF YOU DRINK, DON'T DRIVE
Safe driving alternatives for partygoers:
AAA's Tipsy Tow Program offers a ride and a free tow for those who've been drinking. The service runs from 6 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday in Northern California, Nevada and Utah. Members and nonmembers can call (800) 222-4357 for a tow up to 10 miles. Just tell the AAA operator, "I need a Tipsy Tow." Service is restricted to a one-way ride for the driver and his or her vehicle to the driver's home.
The state Office of Traffic Safety is holding a "Not Driving" Instagram contest. Take a photo of yourself not driving to be entered to win cab fare for a year. For contest details, go to www.facebook.com/CaliforniaOTS.
Safety tips to stay safe and out of trouble:
Plan ahead. If you will be drinking, do not plan on driving. Designate a sober driver or find another safe way home.
If you are impaired, find another way home. Call for a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation.
Be responsible. If someone you know is drinking, do not let them get behind the wheel. If you see an impaired driver on the road, call 911. Your actions may save someone's life.
How to spot a drunken driver:
Weaving or zigzagging across the road
Driving on surfaces other than a road
Swerving or abruptly turning away from a generally straight course
Turning abruptly or illegally
Driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit
Stopping without cause in a traffic lane
Almost striking an object or another vehicle
Following others too closely
Drifting or moving in a straight line at an angle to the road
Driving into opposing or crossing traffic
Signaling that is inconsistent with driving actions
Slow response to traffic signals, including sudden stops and delayed starts
Turning with a wide radius
Straddling the center of the road or lane marker
Appearing to be drunk: for example, eye fixation, face close to windshield, drinking in the vehicle
Driving with headlights off
How to report a drunken driver:
Call 911 and tell them you wish to report a drunken driver. You can remain anonymous.
Give the exact location of the vehicle, including the name of the road or cross streets and the direction the vehicle is traveling.
Give a complete description of the vehicle, including make, model, color and license plate.
Describe the manner in which the vehicle is being driven.
Do not follow or try to stop the car or detain the driver. Leave that to law enforcement officers.