A driver was arrested for driving under the influence once every 12 hours this summer, according to local law enforcement agencies.
A total of 184 DUI arrests were performed from June to August by the California Highway Patrol, the Napa Police Department and the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, according to statistics provided by those agencies.
Napa police arrested 40 people on suspicion of DUI during those months, while the Sheriff and affiliated agencies — American Canyon Police and Yountville Police — made 36 DUI arrests.
The CHP’s Napa branch arrested 108 people on suspicion of DUI, though a spokesperson cautioned its jurisdiction includes part of Sonoma County.
A total of 184 arrests might not seem like a lot of DUIs for a county of 140,000 people, especially during a peak tourist season in a region that draws thousands of wine-drinkers from around the world each year.
But Napa Valley grapples with a more substantial drunk driving problem than most parts of the state, according to rankings published by the California Office of Traffic Safety. The city of Napa had the second-highest rate of DUI arrests, or 433 arrests, compared to 105 similar-sized cities in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
“I don’t think (the number of DUI arrests is) as high as it would have been without the convenience of Uber or Lyft,” said Napa Police Traffic Sgt. Kristofer Jenny. “You no longer have to have a bartender call a cab for you.”
A leader in DUIs
In 2015, an average of one person per week was hurt or killed in a Napa County traffic collision that involved a driver, aged 21 to 34, who had been drinking, according to state statistics.
Napa County ranked fourth-highest in that category, among all 58 California counties. Such collisions hurt or killed 51 people, according to state statistics.
The city of Napa also ranked fourth-highest in that same category, state statistics show. Those collisions left 20 people hurt or dead.
The city ranked 11th-highest among 105 similar-sized cities when it came to the number of collisions that involved drunk driving. There were 20 such crashes in 2015.
Sgt., Jenny is tasked with coordinating campaigns to crack down on intoxicated drivers, which includes checkpoints. Officers tend to see the best results while patrolling the streets for drunk drivers because they can look for specific driving patterns, he said.
Hundreds of drivers may be screened at checkpoints, but only a few are arrested on suspicion of DUI, he said.
That could be because police departments are required to publicize when they will occur, Jenny said. Checkpoints can be an effective deterrent for drunk drivers, even though the location is not publicized.
“If they’re just taking side streets and trying to dodge the checkpoint, well then, we aren’t doing a whole lot,” he said.
Locals drive drunk the most
Napa residents have long joked about visitors who come on vacation and leave on probation, but locals were the culprit in a majority of DUI arrests performed this June to July by Napa Police, American Canyon Police, the Sheriff’s Office and Yountville police.
Napa police officers arrested a county resident on suspicion of DUI once every few days on average, while a visitor was arrested every other week, statistics show.
Napa police arrested a total of 40 people during that time period. Seven lived outside of Napa County.
“I think the common answer (when Napa residents explain why they drove drunk) is the bar or restaurant is close, it’s in town, they only had a couple drinks, they didn’t think they were impaired,” Jenny said.
Though Jenny said hotel shuttles, Uber and Lyft have helped curb drunk driving, DUI enforcement hasn’t necessarily gotten easier over the years.
Napa police had a DUI patrol car dedicated to finding intoxicated drivers when Jenny began in 2003, he said. That’s no longer the case, though the department did receive a grant in 2015 and 2016 that allowed them to fund a DUI officer position.
And Napa Police aren’t working with quite the same resources that other areas have, despite the high number of DUI arrests in the area.
The department had 72 non-civilian officers last year, serving a population of nearly 81,000 according to FBI statistics. That’s the lowest number compared to six similar-sized cities in California, Jenny said.
While Napa police arrested more locals than visitors, the opposite was true when it came to DUI arrests performed by American Canyon Police, the Sheriff’s Office and Yountville police from June to August.
More than two-thirds of the 36 DUI arrestees lived outside Napa County, though most visitors lived in nearby cities such as Vallejo or Fairfield. American Canyon Police handled most of those arrests.
A county resident was arrested for DUI by those agencies roughly once per week on average, while visitors were arrested once every three or four days, statistics show.
The high number of non-resident arrests could be because of American Canyon’s location along Highway 29, and proximity to Solano County and more urban parts of the Bay Area, said American Canyon Police Chief Oscar Ortiz.
“We’re also kind of a pass-through city,” he said. “People going to and from Napa pretty much got to cross American Canyon.”