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Drunk Driving Alert

Heads up: it's DUI season. Don't drive while under the influence, and keep a vigilant watch for the folks who do. The statistics aren't good. There were 16,885 alcohol-related fatalities nationwide in 2005. That's an average of one every 31 minutes.

And as many a grieving family member can attest, it's not just the drunken driver who gets injured or killed in a crash. While it's important to be judicious about your own actions —it's simple, never imbibe and drive —you also need to be on special alert for other folks who have taken in just a little too much holiday cheer and have no business being behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

More than 30,810 people were injured in DUI crashes throughout California in 2005, with 1,574 fatalities —up about 8 percent from the 1,462 DUI deaths the previous year. Marin County saw six alcohol-related deaths in 2005, with 184 injuries and 1,557 DUI arrests. For Napa County, the count was seven fatalities, 173 people injured and 1,002 drivers nabbed on DUI charges. Sonoma County recorded 28 DUI-crash fatalities, 482 related injuries and 2,990 arrests.

In what's become a modern-day holiday tradition, 14 law agencies in the nine-county Bay Area are coordinating a massive year-end crackdown on drunken drivers, with sobriety checkpoints and intensive patrols until Jan. 1. "We're going to be enforcing, enforcing, enforcing —doing everything we can to keep the public safe," says Mike Davis, public information officer for the CHP's Golden Gate Division.

There are good reasons to want to avoid DUI charges —between 5,200 to 10,000 good reasons. That's what the CHP estimates the average California DUI costs, $5,200 to $10,000, once you add up fines, court assessments, vehicle towing and storage, auto insurance premium increases, DUI classes, attorney fees and more.

It's also a good idea to call 911 to report a potential drunken driver when you spot someone driving erratically. And it's a good idea to stay off the roads, if possible, when other drivers may be impaired.

Between 11pm and midnight in 2005, CHP records show that there were 164 DUI injuries and 13 related deaths on Monday nights; for the same period on Wednesdays, it jumped to 253 injured and 14 dead; and it jumped on the weekends, with 520 injuries and 24 deaths between 11pm and midnight on Fridays, and 595 injuries and 32 deaths on Saturdays.

The numbers jump even higher for the 2am to 3am slot, with 212 injuries and seven deaths on Mondays, compared to 826 hurt and 49 dead at the same time on Saturdays.

Be careful out there

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