San Diego DUI Law Center

San Diego DUI criminal defense lawyers and San Diego drunk driving criminal defense attorneys at report that after a string of high-profile arrests of Hollywood starlets suspected of driving under the influence, a researcher with the Automobile Club of Southern California began to wonder whether the young women reflected a trend that reached beyond the entertainment industry.

Senior researcher Steven Bloch’s study revealed that Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan —- who were not seriously injured in the events leading to their arrests —- represented the tip of a dangerous iceberg in California.

The number of young female drivers involved in serious substance-related crashes —- including those in San Diego County —- has risen steeply in California since 1998, Bloch said.

Bloch said that in San Diego County, intoxicated female drivers between ages 21 and 24 saw the largest increase in fatal and injury crashes —- 110 crashes in 2007, up from 49 in 1998, a 124 percent increase. San Diego County women between ages 18 and 20 were involved in 100 such crashes, double the number in 1998, he said.

“I was pretty surprised at the magnitude of the increase,” said Bloch, who used 10 years of data from the California Highway Patrol for the study.

In one 2007 North County case, a young Palm Springs woman was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine in a head-on crash that killed four people —- married couples from Escondido and Vista —- in the opposite car.

Deanna Fridley, 23 at the time of the accident, is awaiting trial on four counts of murder in connection with the crash.

Bloch stressed that men are still involved in a majority of substance-related crashes. Federal statistics show that males are twice as likely as females to be involved in fatal crashes involving a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater. It’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher. That limit is lower for drivers under 21 years of age.

Though men may be involved in more alcohol-related crashes than women, their involvement in serious crashes is not increasing as significantly as women in certain age groups, Bloch said.

Factors contributing to the increases include a greater number of women driving, women driving more miles and women driving more aggressively, he said.

But Bloch said that isn’t the whole story.

The alcohol industry is increasingly targeting young women through the products it develops —- especially “sweet drinks” such as fruit-flavored malt beverages —- and the way they advertise them, Bloch said.

“Walking though the supermarket, I saw one drink that was packaged to look like a perfume bottle,” he said. “We know who that’s being marketed to.”

Susan Bower, director of the county’s Alcohol and Drug Services, said men made up 75 percent of the 16,000 San Diego County residents enrolled in court-mandated education programs during the past fiscal year because of criminal convictions.

But for the past three fiscal years, women ages 18 to 29 have accounted for approximately half of all enrolled women in the county, Bower said.

Those statistics held true for North County women, too, she said.

In fact, North County arrests of women driving under the influence appear to be on the rise overall, based on statistics from San Marcos-based Occupational Health Services, which provides court-ordered education programs for people convicted of driving under the influence.

In 2004, women accounted for 20 percent of OHS clients, said director of operations Teri Kerns.

By 2008, 29 percent of its clients were women, Kerns said.

“In just four years, it went up almost 10 percent,” she said.

Kerns said education can play a lead role in reducing impaired driving among young women and other drivers.

“A lot of folks don’t realize they’re impaired when they get behind the wheel,” she said, adding that a person doesn’t have to be stumbling or slurring their words for drinking or drug use to affect their driving. “There’s still a stereotype that people have to be ‘drunk’ to get a DUI.”

“It’s not ‘drunk,’ ” Kerns said. “It’s impaired.”

Bloch said there was a silver lining in his study for the Auto Club —- a roughly 20 percent decline over 10 years in impaired driving among 16- and 17-year-olds.

Bloch attributed the drop to a 1998 state law restricting driving privileges for those teens.

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