The past couple of months may have brought their usual holiday cheer to most of San Luis Obispo County, but they were underscored by an unsettling trend – and this time, one that took on historic proportions.

From Nov. 22, 2007 to New Year’s Day, 294 DUI arrests were made within the county, which signified a 12.6 percent increase from the same time span of 2006.

Avoid the 14, a county effort including DUI saturation patrols and monitoring checkpoints to prevent driving under the influence, oversaw 22 DUI arrests on Dec. 1, 2007, which was the highest amount of such arrests made on one day during the period.

After four fatal DUI traffic collisions during the holiday period in 2006, though, Avoid the 14, which is named for the number of law enforcement agencies in the county, reported no fatal collisions from the 2007 holidays.

“It’s about sending the message (drunk driving) is not acceptable,” said Erin Taylor, San Luis Obispo County’s DUI Task Force coordinator, who added that area residents have been instrumental in reporting drunk driving. “The public is tired of people drinking and driving, and the community is tired of seeing unnecessary deaths.”

A naturally contributing factor to the increase in arrests was that there were five weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2007 as opposed to the usual four, Taylor said.

Just the same, though, she was elated with the void of fatalities.

“I can’t tell you the last time we didn’t have a fatal (collision) during a holiday period,” she said.

San Luis Obispo Police Department Capt. Dan Blanke, while also ecstatic with the absence of fatalities, called their most recent nonexistence more of a “cyclical” development than any outcome derived from particular actions taken to deter them.

“We have to constantly keep up the effort, enforcement-wise and education-wise,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a problem that’s going to go away.”

Business junior Juliana Bunce said that although efforts such as Avoid the 14 are commendable, most would-be drunk drivers, including Cal Poly students, aren’t likely to necessarily be deterred from drunk driving by such approaches, if they are even aware of them.

“(Drunk drivers) don’t care; they’re going to drink anyway,” Bunce said. “It’s not going to stop them, and they’re still going to get caught.”

Mechanical engineering junior Andrew Bookholt agreed that drunk driving among college students isn’t likely to dissipate.

“There’s not really much change,” he said. “There’ll always be a constant small percentage of people who take the risk.”

Bookholt, a Pennsylvania native, said that while the college atmosphere can contribute to such illegalities, it isn’t necessarily its main reason.

“I guess you’re bound to see more partying amongst college students,” he said. “But then, there are probably a high amount of people the same age doing it who don’t go to college.”

Blanke, a Cal Poly alumnus himself, pointed out that although it may seem as if college students get a bad rap for the problem, especially in a community such as San Luis Obispo, the city’s nature as a two-college town with less than 50,000 overall residents makes the high volume of college-aged DUI arrestees simply inevitable.

Even worse may be drunk-driving climates in other areas of the state, throughout which there are 40 similar countywide DUI crackdowns.

Mathematics sophomore Alfred Keller said that his native Modesto makes San Luis Obispo look relatively dry.

“It’s 10 times worse there,” he said. “It doesn’t seem too bad here.”

General engineering senior Alan Hsu, who rang in the New Year in San Francisco, feels that an increased law enforcement presence helped curtail drunk driving that may have otherwise surrounded him.

“This year there were a lot more people staying in than going out,” Hsu said. “Up (in San Francisco) it was really strict.”

While there were no drunk driving-related fatalities reported in San Luis Obispo County this past holiday season, one of its residents, Jeremy White, 20, of Paso Robles, was arrested Dec. 19 near La Conchita on suspicion of felony DUI after reportedly being behind the wheel of a pickup truck involved in a collision that killed one person and left a CHP officer seriously injured.

Taylor said that with extra funding, Avoid the 14 was able to increase its personnel and get “more in the swing of things” from years past. She added that people should remember the families of victims of drunk driving.

“Call a designated driver, a family member, a friend or a cab,” Taylor said. “(When a fatality happens) someone has to call the family and notify family members about something that was completely avoidable. Zero people (who drink and drive) is the aim.”

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