Recent statistics show California has the highest number of drunk driving deaths in the U.S this year. On the Central Coast, the California Highway Patrol reports an increase of DUI arrests in Santa Maria in 2019, and an uptick in DUI crashes in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“We do apprehend driving under the influence drivers here," said CHP Buellton officer Kelly Valdez.
Valdez says State Route 154 is a hot spot.
“Some people wanna take that chance and potentially kill themselves, kill somebody else," he said.
Valdez says too many people are taking that chance in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“We have seen an increase in crashes. We're at 50 this year already, we only had 35 last year."
The agency has also seen more felony DUI arrests in 2019.
"We've had seven felony arrests. Last year, there were six."
A felony arrest can include someone who's had three or more DUI's.
In 2019, a state law meant to deter driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol came into effect.
“The law was made to try to keep people from repeat offending," said Valdez.
The measure requires these drivers to install an ignition interlock device.
“Before that car will even start, they have to blow into it."
However, CHP says it's unclear whether that law has made a difference so far.
“We seem to be getting similar number of arrests from 2018, to 2019.”
CHP Buellton arrested 145 drivers under the influence in 2018, and 120 in 2019 so far.
Valdez says the numbers are high number for an area like the Santa Ynez Valley, but points out it's a unique case “because you have several local communities into one area. And then it's a tourist area –so you get vacationers.”
The Highway Patrol says in Santa Maria, there's been a 36% increase in DUI arrests from 2018, to 2019 (204 last year, 278 in 2019 so far).
As usual, CHP is planning a maximum enforcement operation for the Thanksgiving holiday. Officers remind people to have a designated driver, or call a cab.