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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Expect CHP to be out in force this weekend.

Holiday Cheer

Congratulations! If you're reading this, you survived the third, fourth and fifth deadliest drunk-driving days of the year, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. Dec. 22-24 mark some of the toughest dates on the whole calendar to make it home without some lush plowing into your vehicle and handing you on a premature one-way ticket to the pearly gates. Jan. 1 is No. 6 (Dec. 31 doesn't make the list since most people don't leave the party till after midnight); July 3-4 take the grisly top honors for booze-related carnage.This helps explain why CHP officers are out in droves this holiday season. Spokesman Tom Marshall says 80 percent of the uniformed force will be on the road looking for these and other telltale signs, as enumerated in a recent press release: "appearing to be drunk" (their words, not ours, but we agree—definitely a good possible indicator of drunkenness); "driving into opposing or crossing traffic"; "straddling the center of the road or lane marker"; and our favorites, "driving with headlights off" and "driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit."

Seasonal vigilance will probably cost the department, too. Sometimes, if Christmas falls midweek, the "holiday season" is just a day or two. This year, it started on Friday, Dec. 21, and extended through midnight, Dec. 25. It starts back up on Friday, Dec. 28, and continues through midnight, Jan. 1. That's 10 days of "maximum enforcement," which for most of us translates to "lighten up, leadfoot."

It's all for our own good, we're told. Last year 197,248 Californians were arrested for driving under the influence; 1,351 of those arrests were during the Christmas holiday (in Santa Cruz that figure was 115) and 1,481 were on New Year's (locally, 120).

Not only that, but drunk driving-related injuries statewide numbered 31,099 last year; 1,597 people died. Santa Cruz County saw 201 people injured and nine killed. Compared to the bloodbath in Los Angeles County, where more than 7,700 people were injured and 300 slain, that's a rose-strewn walk in the park.

Office of Traffic Safety spokesman Chris Cochran tells Nūz that DUI numbers, which steadily declined between 1980 and 1998, have been rising ever since. The good news is that the jump from 2005 to 2006 was smaller than normal. One possible reason: the Echo Boomers, the precious and plentiful progeny of the Baby Boomers, are finally exiting the high-risk 16-25 age range. This holiday season, Nūz raises a glass of soy milk and drinks to that.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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