Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies

June 4  2022 (San Diego) -- San Diego County’s DUI death rate is the highest in two decades. In 2021, 37 people died while driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. In 2020 the number was 33 and in 2019 the number was 18. Last year was the worst year for DUI fatalities since 2011. All of those deaths could have been prevented. Every single one of them. That’s why the Institute for Public Strategies and County officials got together recently to announce Vision Zero, an effort to eliminate DUI fatalities altogether.

IPS and the Center for Community Research, along with the district attorney’s office and the Behavioral Health Services Department in San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency, are joining forces to raise awareness about poly-drug use and driving. The innovative campaign focuses on sensible upstream prevention methods to reduce poly-drug use, increase driver education and promote responsible decisions like the use of ridesharing.

Photo right via Creative Commons

“This is a bold vision today, but it can be a reality if we all come together as a community,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said at a news conference in front of the County Administration Center. “We can never return a life back to our community and we can never eliminate the lifelong suffering that families feel when they lose a loved one in a manner that is so preventable.”

Stephan said her office has a dedicated homicide DUI team that works around the clock.

“This problem is not going away and it is getting worse. The leap was something that really took us by surprise. It seems to continue to trend upward,” Stephan said. “This is a trend we must stop and we cannot stop it only by prosecution. We have to stop it by prevention.”

Why the sudden increase? Pandemic conditions are considered a significant stressor causing increased substance misuse. With problematic drinking and substance use on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts predict the trend will continue in 2022 unless we commit to a vision of zero DUI fatalities. Besides the mixing of substances, law enforcement also found that on average, those who were driving under the influence had a higher blood alcohol volume than in previous years. So, there’s both an increase in how many people are driving intoxicated, and the level of intoxication in those individuals.

Photo left via Creatie Commons

Dr. Luke Bergmann, BHS director, says a 14% increase in DUI injuries in San Diego County over the last five years is alarming. About seven San Diegans are injured each day in an alcohol-involved motor vehicle crash.

“This is something we have been talking about for a really long time. It’s not just the number of fatalities. It’s how these numbers are multiplied in their tragic impacts,” Bergmann said. “We’re addressing this trend, injuries and fatalities, head-on through multi-layered prevention efforts including advocacy of environmental changes and education around safe consumption.”

In 2021, the average blood alcohol concentration for impaired drivers was 0.18%. That’s more than twice the legal limit. Drivers were found to be under the influence of cannabis in almost 1/3 of the DUI cases in 2021.

“We need to continue to work toward educating the public about safe consumption with particular attention to the dangers of consumption of multiple substances simultaneously,” Bergmann said. “Additionally, servers, retailers, promoters and marketers of commercial intoxicants need to be aware of their responsibilities surrounding safe consumption.”

Vision Zero is not only about condemning driving under the influence. It’s about addressing an ongoing tragedy on our roads and helping our communities lead healthier and safer lives. Given the concentration of alcohol retailers, as well as the ongoing licensing of cannabis shops and misuse of prescription drugs, San Diego County often presents a perfect storm for intoxicated driving. The first step toward a safer, healthier San Diego is to prevent these tragedies from having a chance to occur. Consideration needs to be given to the type, amount and distance of adult-oriented businesses in our communities. The more substances that are available, and the greater their availability, the more likely they are to be used before driving.

“Unfortunately, a culture of excess and binge consumption of these products can lead many young people to make life-altering decisions, such as driving under the influence. This decision is made even more dangerous when individuals mix substances, engaging in poly-drug substance use that can severely impede decision-making ability and reaction time,” said Samantha Torres-Taylor, a Young Advocate and my colleague at IPS. “As a result, San Diego drivers and their communities are put at enormous risk, with alcohol and drugs endangering countless lives.”

“We owe it to our community, friends, family, and importantly ourselves to create a culture where we avoid intoxicated driving every time. However, a healthy, positive community culture does not develop overnight. It requires an environment that supports safety rather than promoting potentially dangerous behavior,” Torres-Taylor said. “I hope to see such an environmental and cultural change happen amongst my peer group and the spaces we inhabit thanks in part to the launching of this Vision Zero DUIs Initiative.”

“The reality is that for college students in San Diego, alcohol is often just as accessible as a can of soda or a bottle of Gatorade. As cannabis products become more available—and more potent—students are often enticed into hazardous intoxication regularly,” she said. “Cannabis candies, snacks, and other edible intoxicants are sold across the county, and high-potency smokables are the norm in many dispensaries.”

Another concern is the use of prescription medications that may cause drowsiness and motor skill impairment. This is of concern when combined with alcohol or other drugs, especially cannabis. There are many ways to avoid driving under the influence. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Monitor how much and how often you are consuming alcohol and other substances. Use a ride-share or taxi, or don’t drink when you are out. Any substance you use that affects your ability to drive has the potential to cause a serious injury or death if you get behind the wheel.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive. To find out more about IPS East County, follow us at: or by clicking on the links to our social media platforms: IPS East County Facebook, IPS East County Twitter, East County Youth Coalition Instagram.





Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.