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Drunk, distracted drivers causing highway holiday risks

The holiday spirit has limitations and law enforcement officers want the entire community to be part of a safe end to the year.

Multiple agencies stood side by side with a united message this morning including the California Highway Patrol Coastal Division, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, Santa Barbara Police, State Parks, and University Police.

Drunk drivers, once the main target, are now part of a list of concerns. That includes drowsy, drugged or distracted drivers.

The use of cell phones has become an increasing widespread problem on the highways, when a hands free device is not connected. Starting January first, laws will be toughened on cell phone use for calls or even to look up a map. The ultimate goal is to have drivers keep both hands on the wheel and focused on the road.

CHP Commander Mark D’Arelli says a widespread community effort is going to be the answer, not just tougher law enforcement. “If you are in the private enterprise and you are serving alcohol then you have to serve responsibly and if you are a consumer you have to consume responsibly,” he said. After than the law can get involved and the cost can be very expensive in many ways.

He urged friends and family members to be bold with their efforts to stop someone who could be a danger to themselves and others. “Don’t be afraid. Call them out. Take the keys. Do what you have to do. The next morning they’re gonna realize what you did,” said D’Arelli.

Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Sergeant Greg Sorenson said drivers impaired by marijuana have to be evaluated a different way. Issues with their driving prior to a stop is one way contact is made to see if the driver is capable of operating a motor vehicle, after using marijuana or for other reasons.

The law officers were encouraged by the local programs to educate the public, sometimes right while they are having a night out with their friends. One popular program is Vow4Mal that contacts the public and works with bartenders to have responsible drinking and safe rides home. It was formed after a downtown nightclub worker Malory Dies was hit and killed by a drunk driver.

Candles still mark the spot on Anacapa Street where that accident took place.

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