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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

DUI: Misdemeanors to Manslaughter


Driving under influence; any substance can impair

Driving under the influence refers to the act of driving a vehicle while being under the influence of any drug or substance that can impair one’s ability to drive safely. DUI arrests can range from minor misdemeanors and traffic violations to counts of manslaughter for causing someone’s death.

“I think it’s more of an issue than people seem to think,” said UC Davis police officer Jose Pinedo. “I feel that some of the drivers that are under the influence — not all of them are doing it out of spite. Sometimes they’re just not thinking clearly which tells me that there needs to be a push for more of an education for those individuals.”

Education and raising awareness around the issue of DUI has been a focus of UCDPD outreach officers. There are many myths, as Pinedo expressed, that need to be broken around DUI, such as the notion that alcohol is the only substance that is problematic, or misunderstanding what it means to be under the influence. Blood alcohol concentrations do not necessarily need to be at 0.08 percent or above for someone to be impaired.

“People sometimes think they are at their limit and stop [drinking] one to two hours before driving, but that may not be the case and may not work out,” Pinedo said. “They could still be way over the limit. [In] the arrests that I’ve been involved in, a lot of them aren’t in the right mindset to think that they are impaired. A lot of them seem to think that they are okay to drive and are pretty shocked by it. So we need more education.”

Part of this education involves understanding that alcohol is by no means the only substance that can lead to impairment and subsequently a DUI. According to Pinedo, a very common misconception is that smoking marijuana can lead to any less of a violation. Pinedo has noticed this to be an issue in the Davis youth community,

“Most people understand that drinking and driving is a huge issue, but I think a lot of people don’t understand that being on other substances and driving is also a really, really big issue,” said Mahima Rupakula, a second-year chemical engineer who has had a couple friends face DUI charges. “I’ve met so many people who say, ‘it’s okay, I’m not drunk.’ It doesn’t matter. It’s still a problem. You should not be driving. People should start to learn that just because you’re not drunk, doesn’t mean you’re fully functional to drive. In some countries, there’s a law that says if you look sleepy, you can get pulled over and get ticketed.”

In addition, the amount of alcohol or other substances that can lead to impairment in an individual varies heavily from person to person. Depending on metabolism and body mass index, people can have very different tolerances. This means that some may seem functional even over the legal blood alcohol concentration, while others may be impaired at a level significantly below that.

“Think about your friend who’s really short and really thin,” Pinedo said. “Now think about them drinking two beers within one hour and compare it to somebody who is significantly taller and significantly weighs more — you’ll see the impairment levels be significantly different. The shorter individual who will probably be really impaired by those two beers and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re above a 0.08 percent, because again it is just two beers. However, their perception for time and distance and reaction time is impaired. Just because you are not at 0.08 percent, doesn’t mean you are not impaired.”

In Pinedo’s opinion, the best way to avoid a DUI is to make a plan for transportation before alcohol impairs one’s judgement. He suggested a Lyft, Uber, designated driver or any other option to avoid risking the driver’s life and the community around them.

“For Davis residents, its only about $8 to $10 to get an Uber or Lyft, and that service is phenomenal,” Pinedo said. “I think it started becoming a popular thing here starting 2015, and I saw DUIs just drop dramatically. I know sometimes we are in financial hardship and can’t afford $10 here and there, but it’s definitely better than getting into an accident or accumulating a DUI misdemeanor — it’s cheaper than that. Another thing is to just try and get a designated driver. One of your friends has to be willing to be able to help you out. It’s not safe and it’s not worth it.”

Getting a DUI can cause financial strain, create a criminal record and, especially for UC Davis students, also has implications and punishments from the university.

“Pay attention to how much you’ve been drinking throughout the entire night, versus just stopping an hour or two before you drive, because it’ll definitely carry on past that,” Pinedo said. “And for those individuals that are planning to drink heavily that night, I’d definitely have a game plan set before you start drinking. That way, when you’re halfway through drinking, you’re not going to be tempted to take the keys or get behind the wheel.”

Lashkara at UC Davis, a Hindi film dance team, chose its story line this season to bring light to DUIs. The dance tells the tale of a couple that was engaged, but got themselves into a DUI situation, ending with the woman losing her fiance. She looks back a few years later, and contemplates the life she could’ve had with her partner, if only they hadn’t made one wrong decision.

“The main reason we were inspired to use that as our topic is because we wanted to show how life isn’t always how you expect it to be,” said Anjana Benny, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and captain of Lashkara. “Our title is one decision, and we wanted to show how one decision can literally change your life, [or] anyone else’s life. One single decision, like going out and getting in a car and driving, that one small decision can literally either end or change your life.”

Anjana expressed how many people don’t realize the imminent danger of a DUI and believe that they are somehow different or immune to the consequences of such a decision.

“You don’t imagine these things ever happening, until you’re put into that situation,” Benny said. “It’s a really big eye-opener. A lot of people just don’t realize that it could happen to them, and it happens to so many people. If a person is drunk driving, first of all the driver themself is going to be in jeopardy, all the people in the car are in jeopardy, and also all the people on the road are in jeopardy. That’s a good amount of people who could possibly get hurt really badly.”

Driving is an activity that requires an alert individual with fully functioning reflexes, depth perception and sense of judgement. It requires active thinking and motor skills, and any state of mind that is sub-par to this poses a risk to the driver and everyone on the road with them. From being intoxicated to simply being fatigued from a long day — any decrease in awareness can pose a threat.

“Don’t be on anything and driving,” Rupakula said. “Don’t be too sleepy and driving, don’t be texting and driving, don’t be eating and driving.”



Written by: Sahiti Vemula — features@theaggie.org


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