As we start 2022, looking ahead to what this new year will bring and reflecting on the year behind us, I ask you to make a commitment to yourself, your loved ones, and your community to not drink and drive. Recent DUI-related deaths have made headlines locally, and DUIs are on the rise in California.

Driving under the influence is not a new problem. When I started my career as a prosecutor here in Nevada County more than 10 years ago, many of the jury trials I conducted consisted of misdemeanor DUI cases.  These cases are relatively straightforward, with no injuries and usually no history of prior DUIs, but they stuck with me because of the jury selection process. During jury selection, there are a lot of questions from the attorneys and the judge about prospective jurors’ personal experiences with DUIs. Every single panel of prospective jurors included people whose lives were devastated by a drunk driver. I was shocked by the number of people in our community who had their lives impacted by a drunk driver.

Statistics show that driving under the influence is a pervasive, national problem.  According to data collected by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the nation’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to end drunk driving, more than 10,000 lives were lost in DUI-related accidents across the United States in 2019.  Data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that almost 1,000 of those DUI-related deaths occurred in California. In 2021, 350 individuals were charged with DUIs committed in Nevada County.

The devastation to families who lost a loved one to a drunk driver is real.  I have personally heard the heartbreaking stories during my time as a prosecutor. Each of those statistics not only represent a person who lost their life to a drunk driver, but also a family that has been torn apart. And as real as the pain is, so are the potential consequences for those who choose to get behind the wheel while under the influence.  Consequences include thousands of dollars in fines, fees and classes, as well as increases to insurance premiums for numerous years.

Additionally, there is the potential for more serious legal consequences including felony charges and jail time if injury or death is caused by the DUI.My office is currently prosecuting two individuals for murder based on facts showing they decided to get behind the wheel while under the influence and as a result lives were lost.  We do not yet know how those cases will play out in court. We do know that those victims’ families spent this past holiday season without their loved ones, which is only the start of irreversible pain and suffering that will be endured by these families for years to come. 

But there is hope.  Changes can be made and lives can be saved. 

With the help of organizations such as MADD, millions of Americans have made commitments to not drink and drive. The last 40 years have seen progress: since 1982, there has been a 52% decrease per capita in drunk driving fatalities nationwide.  However, recent trends in California show a slide backwards.  Multiple counties in California reported an increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2021.  Nevada County is not immune. That’s why I am asking those who have not already made the decision to never drink and drive, to please begin the new year by making that pledge. In addition, make the decision to not allow a friend or family member to drink and drive.  Make this decision for yourself and for the person whose life you may save.  Make a plan to designate a driver before you decide to drink, and before you attend an event or a get-together where alcohol is being served. 

Call it a resolution, a promise, a lifestyle change.  Call it whatever you want but make the commitment.  Make it for yourself, for your family and for all the families of Nevada County.   

Jesse Wilson

Nevada County District Attorney