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Federal survey reveals sharp fall in drunk driving

Fewer motorists in California and around the country are getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration compiles data about alcohol, tobacco and drug use in the United States, and its 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that drunk driving rates have been falling steadily for at least 13 years.

SAMSA began compiling data using its current methodology in 2002, and the agency's annual survey is not considered hard science because its findings are based on self-reporting. Not all motorists are willing to admit to driving drunk and views of impairment differ, but the number of drivers who told SAMSA that they drove while impaired during the previous 12 months fell from 15.3 percent in 2002 to 11.1 percent in 2014.

The SAMSA survey reveals that drunk driving remains a persistent problem among younger motorists. More than 20 percent of the drivers aged between 21 and 25 surveyed admitted to driving after drinking in 2014, and more than 14 percent of them said that they got behind the wheel after taking drugs. While disturbing, these figures are a significant improvement over the 2002 survey's findings. The nationwide drop in drunk driving is put down to a number of factors including stricter enforcement of the nation's DUI laws, stiffer penalties and persuasive public information campaigns.

The penalties for drunk driving can be severe in California, and even first offenders could face jail time in certain situations. A DUI conviction can also impact employment and housing opportunities. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to minimize these consequences by urging prosecutors to reduce or dismiss charges during plea negotiations. Attorneys could also dispute the results of toxicology tests or question the way in which the traffic stop was conducted.

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