Killer DUI Crashes Spike During Pandemic Despite Fewer Drivers

A fatal crash with a suspected DUI driver on state Route 125 in La Mesa last month

Local DUI drivers are on a pace to kill themselves and their victims in 2020 that could be the highest rate seen in decades, local officials said Thursday.

In the last five months, there has been a fatal crash caused by an impaired driver every week, on average, according to San Diego's county district attorney Summer Stephan.

With thousands of San Diegans working from home, the skyrocketing number of fatal DUI cases comes amid a huge decrease in local traffic. In fact, during the same period, there have been 30 percent fewer fatal crashes when drivers were found to have not been impaired, officials said.

Last year, there were 15 fatal DUI cases, while in 2020, that number has already reached the 21st case. This despite the fact that DUIs overall in the county have plummeted from 9,666 last year to 5,054 this year


According to a survey released last month by the RAND Corporation, people over the age of 30 have been drinking more alcohol since the beginning of the pandemic. Researchers found a particularly sudden spike in alcohol consumption in women.

Researchers surveyed 1,500 people during spring 2019 and then again this spring, and found a 19% increase in alcohol consumption in people between the ages of 30 and 59. For women, ages 30 and up, there was a 41% increase in alcohol consumption.

NBC 7's Consumer Bob reports that alcohol sales have jumped but drinking too much can cause many problems.

North Park resident Jill Soto told NBC 7 in October that that she had noticed she was drinking more.

"Basically, all of my responsibilities have been wiped away and a drink at the end of the day is my reward at the end of the day for getting through another day stuck inside my house,” Soto joked.

She said she and her husband are sharing at least one to two drinks each night but said she is drinking more than her husband is, which aligns with the recent study.

“Some people are facing stressors they wouldn’t normally face, like they might lose their job, more financial stress, women maybe face the same stressors around work and navigating other parts of the pandemic, but maybe some of the household and childcare stressors are falling particularly on their shoulders,” Sonya Norman, a local psychiatrist with UC San Diego Health, told NBC 7.


The county district attorney's office announced Thursday that it had received a $426,000 grant from California's Office of Traffic Safety "to prevent and prosecute impaired driving deaths."

Officials said the funding is used to enhance investigations, which in the past had been approached as fatal-DUI-crash cases. Since 2014, however, when the DA's office first received similar funding, leading to the formation of the DUI Homicide Unit, the office has pursued the prosecutions as potential cases of murder.

“Even with stay-at-home orders because of the pandemic and many bars being closed, we are still on the brink of topping the highest number of deadly DUI crashes we have had in a single year," Stephans said in a news release issued Thursday, adding, "Prosecuting and investigating these important cases require a specialized team of prosecutors and investigators to be able to hold offenders accountable and deter this deadly behavior.”

  • According to prosecutors, the grant will also be used to:
  • Develop protocols for handling cases through every step of the criminal process
  • Provide training for prosecutors and investigators through California’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Program
  • Host quarterly regional meetings with law enforcement partners to improve DUI investigations and prosecutions
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