With our nonstop sunshine and our high average temperatures, the holidays in southern California are a time to celebrate. When you gather with friends, make safety a top priority this holiday season. You do not want to be injured, and you do not want to be responsible for injuring someone else. A little planning, a bit of caution, and a dose of common sense are usually all it really takes to keep the holidays and the new year jubilant and safe.

For example, if you plan to share a few celebratory drinks with friends this season, arrange for your transportation in advance or make a plan to stay the night. Hosts who throw big gatherings frequently make arrangements to put their friends on a sofa or in a spare bedroom. If you designate a driver, make sure that it’s someone you know and trust with your life, because that is precisely what you will be doing. Limousines, taxicabs, and buses are alternatives too, and you should also check into ride-sharing apps and services like Lyft and Uber. Most rides-for-hire in Southern California are available 24/7/365. There is no excuse – ever – for drinking and driving.

When an impaired driver injures someone in this state, the criminal charges and the penalties for a conviction are quite serious. An intoxicated driver could also conceivably end up on the wrong side of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Bicycling, however, probably is not a good alternative to driving. The law in California requires bicycle riders to adhere to exactly the same traffic rules and regulations that motorists must obey. “Biking under the influence” is against the law in this state just like driving under the influence.

HOW MANY DIE IN ALCOHOL-RELATED CRASHES?

Intoxicated drivers are responsible every year for thousands of traffic accidents, personal injuries, and highway fatalities. Since 2001, more than 180,000 men, women, and children have perished in the United States in traffic accidents linked to intoxicated driving. More than 10,000 people a year – or about one every 52 minutes – are killed in traffic crashes linked to alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The figure of one fatality every 52 minutes is an average; the actual figure increases dramatically during the holiday season.

The NHTSA also reports an average of 45 alcohol-related traffic deaths per day through the holiday season, increasing to an average of 54 fatalities a day on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 40 percent of all traffic fatalities during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s involve intoxicated drivers. Why do drunk driving, DUI arrests, and alcohol-related injuries and deaths increase so substantially during the holiday season?

One reason is that more vehicles are on southern California’s streets and freeways through the holidays. Especially during business hours, the streets around the shopping malls are packed. More of us are visiting or entertaining visitors during the holidays. There’s more commercial traffic too. Winters typically mean great weather in Southern California, but with crowded streets filled with motorists who may be either intoxicated or stressed out by the holidays, even just a little rain can make the roads much more dangerous.

WHAT IS THE “LEGAL LIMIT” FOR DRINKING AND DRIVING?

Another leading reason why impaired driving increases during the holiday season is that many people who rarely drink at other times decide to have a couple of celebratory drinks with their friends – and then decide that they are okay to drive. The legal drinking limit in California is a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent, which allows most people to drink about one beer or one glass of wine.

However, the person who seldom drinks has a lower tolerance to alcohol and less experience with it, so just one or two drinks may be enough to impair significantly that person’s driving ability. In fact, if you’ve had more than a 12-ounce beer or 6-ounce glass of wine, you probably should not drive for the rest of the night. Know when to stop, drink plenty of water, and do not drive if you feel even just a little bit “buzzed.”

Obviously, the holidays also mean more gatherings and more events where alcohol is served, so more people who are drinking are out on the streets and freeways. More teens – on winter break from school – are also drinking and driving over the holidays. If you host a holiday gathering this season, you should know that the “social host” law in California was created to keep adults from knowingly serving alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. If a person under the age of 21 then drives and causes property damage, personal injury, or wrongful death, and if alcohol was a contributing factor, the adult who served the alcohol may be held liable through a civil lawsuit.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AT A SOBRIETY CHECKPOINT?

The holidays are also the time of year when law enforcement “task forces” are out to make every possible DUI arrest and when California police agencies conduct more sobriety checkpoints. If you are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, be cooperative and pleasant, and you will probably pass through without any trouble. If you are arrested for driving under the influence – after a traffic stop or at a DUI checkpoint – you will need to obtain legal help at once by contacting an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer who will protect your legal rights, review the particulars of your case, outline your options, and fight vigorously on your behalf.

No lawyer, of course, can ever guarantee a specific result in any particular criminal case. Still, a trained and experienced DUI attorney can often cast doubt on DUI test results and on the testimony of the arresting officer(s). If you are accused of driving under the influence in Southern California, an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer can assess your case and offer the candid advice and the aggressive legal defense that you will need. The holidays always means heightened DUI enforcement in Southern California, and if you are accused of driving under the influence this season, do not expect leniency because it’s the holidays. There won’t be any.