In a very alarming distinction, Orange County has ranked among the top places in California for car crashes in which alcohol played a role. The county also ranked high for underage drinkers involved in car crashes, The Orange County Register reported this week. The April 11, 2012 story says that some cities attribute the high rates, despite spending considerable amounts of money for drunk-driving checkpoints and police patrols, on beach cities that draw summer crowds. Many Orange County area beaches have beach bars where people have easy access to alcohol. Other areas where alcohol-related car crashes are a problem are college towns in Orange County. According to The Register’s news story, ten Orange County cities are among the top ranking in 2010 for the highest rates of alcohol-related and underage drinker car crashes.
The city of Newport Beach and the city of Orange had the highest rates of alcohol-related crashes compared to other cities of the same size in California. The city of Fullerton and the city of Laguna Hills had the highest rates of underage drinkers involved in car crashes. The Register reports that the statistics for 2010 were tallied by the Office of Traffic Safety, and that the investigators counted only those crashes that resulted in injury or death for someone. No fender-benders were counted. Included in the numbers were drivers who had consumed any alcohol, even if the driver didn’t meet the legal level for being considered drunk. Having had a single drink, with a blood alcohol level of .01, was enough for a driver to be counted as part of the numbers of drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes, The Register reports.
Among California’s largest cities, Santa Ana had the third-highest rate of crashes involving drivers who had consumed alcohol, even though the city had DUI checkpoints twice a month. Among smaller cities, Newport Beach had the highest rate of alcohol-related car crashes. The Register reports that the city of Orange was ranked among the worst mid-sized cities, with Costa Mesa coming in at number 4, and Huntington Beach at number 5. Though Huntington Beach’s ranking improved for 2010—it had previously ranked the worst in California for cities of its size—it still has one of the highest rates of DUI arrests in California among cities its size.
As for underage drinkers who drove, Orange County has some of the worst numbers in the state as well. Laguna Hills ranked at the top among very small cities, Fullerton the worst among mid-sized cities, Laguna Niguel ranked number 2 among mid-sized cities, and Buena Park at number 5, The Register reports. Among the biggest cities in California, Anaheim had the second-highest rate.
The reasons for these numbers are not always clear, though some cities point to particulars of their area, such as college environments and tourism. Fullerton explained its high rate of crashes involving underage drinkers as due to the 60,000 college students who attend six schools within the city. There are also 50 establishments, such as bars and restaurants that have licenses to serve alcohol in the downtown area.
Orange also has a small college, which may have contributed to its high rate of drunk driving crashes. Irvine, though also a college town, had some of the best numbers in the state, with the third-lowest rate of drunk driving crashes for mid-sized cities. Among very small cities, Yorba Linda had the best rate, and Tustin and Rancho Santa Margarita had the lowest rates in California, for cities their size, of underage drinkers who had been involved in car crashes.
The problem for Newport Beach, according to a police spokeswoman mentioned in The Register’s news story, is that multitudes of tourists come to the beaches, which can cause the population within the city’s borders to surge by tens of thousands on a sunny weekend. A high number and concentration of bars, liquor stores, and restaurants are available to serve people. These factors, the spokeswoman believes, have contributed to the city’s high rate of drunk driving car crashes.
Alarming as these rankings are, the numbers of crashes for each city only tallies crashes that occurred on city streets, not on freeways. A different number for Orange County as a whole includes freeways. This number illustrates that Orange County has fewer crashes in which alcohol or underage drivers played a role than the average, according to The Register’s story.
With rankings as worrisome as these are for Orange County, something more needs to be done to keep intoxicated individuals from getting in a car and attempting to drive. Continued enforcement, education, and prevention are necessary to protect people who travel on our roads and freeways. Car crashes in which an intoxicated driver was the cause is certainly one type of accident that is preventable.
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