Photo of Dr. Garth Utter UC Davis trauma surgeon Garth Utter shares his experiences with drunk drivers brought to the hospital emergency room.

Drunk driving is one of America's deadliest crimes. Nearly 16,000 people nationwide and nearly 1,600 people in California died in crashes involving a driver or motorcycle operator who was "under the influence." In the 9-county Sacramento region alone, 172 individuals died and more than 3,100 were injured in alcohol-related vehicle crashes in 2006.

That is why UC Davis trauma specialists helped the "Avoid the 50" Sacramento Regional DUI Taskforce launch their late-summer campaign, "Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest," to crackdown on impaired driving through the Labor Day holiday period.

The task force includes 50 local law enforcement agencies throughout Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Nevada, Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties who work together to combat Driving Under the Influence in cities and unincorporated areas making up the Sacramento Valley region. The Avoid program advises motorists to "avoid" being arrested by not drinking and driving.

At a press conference, law enforcement officers announced they will conduct sobriety checkpoints, multi-agency task force operations, as well as local saturation patrols to get more drunk drivers off the road to save lives.

"As I trauma surgeon, I see patients with critical injuries every day," said Garth Utter, assistant professor of surgery at UC Davis Health System. "For almost half of all the injured people I care for, alcohol was a contributing factor around the time of the injury. The typical drunk driver operates a vehicle 300 times while intoxicated before their first arrest, so it is a fantasy to think that there weren't people around them who were aware of what they were doing. As a society, we must not remain so complacent about this still enormous public health problem."

Law enforcement officials say they are especially relying on other motorists on the roads to help crack down on drunk drivers.

Photo of press conference Chris Cohchran from the Office of Traffic Safety welcomes guests and media to the press conference.

"Other drivers are one of the best weapons we have against drunk drivers," said Robert Simmons, Elk Grove Police Chief. "We're asking the public to report drunk drivers by calling 911 and to provide the location and a complete description of the vehicle. This will help us know who we're looking for and where to look."

"People who die in impaired-driving crashes are real people," said Simmons. "They are our families, friends, and neighbors, and their deaths are preventable — they are not accidents. Violators will face jail time, the loss of their driver's license, higher insurance rates, attorney fees, time away from work, and dozens of other expenses."

The community based enforcement campaigns are funded with a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety. The national impaired driving crackdown is a prevention program organized by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which focuses on combining high-visibility enforcement with heightened public awareness through advertising and publicity.

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