San Diego County officials, alarmed by a rise in deaths due to impaired driving, are backing an initiative to sharply reduce – even eliminate – such crashes by 2025.
In 2021, nearly 40 fatalities were caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. That surpasses the 33 deaths in 2020 and more than doubles the 18 from 2019.
Alcohol- and drug-related incidents in general were also on the rise, with more than 400 crashes reported last year. In comparison, 380 DUIs occurred in 2020 and 350 in 2019.
In addition, DUI cases, officials said, often involve people under the influence of alcohol, cannabis and prescription drugs at the same time.
Dr. Luke Bergmann, director of Behavioral Health Services at the county Health and Human Services Agency, said there has been a 14% increase in DUI injuries in the region over the last five years. Actions to curb the problem include the Vision Zero plan, a broad approach to overall street safety.
“We are addressing this trend head-on through multi-layered prevention efforts including advocacy of environmental changes and education around safe consumption,” Bergmann said. “We need to continue to work toward educating the public about safe consumption, with particular attention to the dangers of consuming multiple substances simultaneously.”
That means calling on proprietors and those linked to the liquor business to do more, Bergman said.
Servers, retailers, promoters and marketers of alcohol and cannabis, he said, must be made aware of the responsibilities surrounding safe consumption.
In part, that education will be required as part of a new California law, to take effect later this year, that will require servers and sellers to be trained about the effects of alcohol, signs of over-serving and how to refuse service.
The county already funds the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative and the Marijuana Prevention Initiative, as well as the Meth Strike Force and the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, along with prevention and treatment services throughout the region.
The Health and Human Services Agency, District Attorney Summer Stephan and other community partners will be part of the effort.
People experiencing a substance-use problem may call the county’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 or 2-1-1 San Diego to seek aid.