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Under Lockdown, Californians Consume More Alcohol and Drive Differently: Orange County Residents Most Likely to be Penalized for a DUI

Under Lockdown, Californians Consume More Alcohol and Drive Differently: Orange County Residents Most Likely to be Penalized for a DUI

Drivers in Orange County are most likely to be penalized for a DUI violation, but the consequences for reckless driving differ widely across county lines in California.

While many California residents shelter in place, state highways have seen dramatic shifts in driving behavior. Traffic on some California interstates has declined by as much as 65%. But while fewer cars populate the roads, more people than expected have been arrested for speeding and for driving under the influence during the day time. As a result, ValuePenguin analyzed DUI penalty trends across California counties.

Between March 19 and April 19 of 2020, the California Highway Patrol issued nearly 2,500 citations to drivers who were speeding at over 100 mph. That represents an 87% increase from the same period in 2019.

Why are those figures so significant? The volume of traffic has decreased during the last year, but the number of speeding incidents, traffic arrests and DUI's have not decreased at the same rates.

At the same time, some California residents are increasing their alcohol consumption. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Bay Area residents are drinking 42% more than before. With a state-wide ease on the restriction of alcohol sales, customers can now pick up alcohol with a takeout order or get alcohol delivered to their homes. Despite restrictions on to-go containers, driving under the influence is a concern.

We define penalization as being found guilty of a violation. Nonpenalization includes having a case dismissed, being found not guilty or having the court withhold adjudication. Convictions are divided by the total number of arrests to calculate a penalization rate.

Plus, according to data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), being arrested for a DUI can lead to very different penalties depending on where you live. ValuePenguin also found that the rate at which drivers are convicted for this violation varies greatly by county, ranging as high as 86% in Orange County and as low as 52% in Kings County.



Key findings:

1. Drivers in Orange County are most likely to be penalized for DUI-related traffic violations. Other counties where drivers were most likely to be penalized included Marin, Ventura, Sacramento and Placer counties.

2. Conversely, drivers in Kings, Alameda, Madera, San Bernardino and Merced counties have the lowest penalization rates for DUI-related offenses in the state.

3. Some counties — including Lake, Shasta and Sacramento — convicted drivers of a felony more often than as a misdemeanor for DUI, and drivers in Alameda, Colusa and Madera counties were most likely to be found guilty on charges of reckless driving.

4. Counties vary drastically in terms of how quickly they adjudicate. Madera County residents wait an average of 313 days between a violation and conviction, which is more than double the state average of 119 days.

This image shows California counties by DUI penalization rate.

California counties that penalize DUI violations at the highest and lowest rates

Across California, the highest rates of convictions for a DUI are in Orange, Marin and Ventura counties, (84%). When it comes to which California counties are the most forgiving of DUI violations, there is a clear leader: Kings County at 52%. For DUIs, drivers in Kings County are penalized nearly 20% less than the state-wide average.

Orange County has the highest rate of DUI penalization

Across the state, California penalized 71% of drivers arrested for driving under the influence. But by county, penalization rates varied from as low as 52% to as high as 86%.

Orange County had the highest rate of DUI penalization in the state. Of 11,467 arrests, 84% were found guilty of a DUI misdemeanor and 2% were found guilty of a felony.

Rank
County
DUI penalization rate
1Orange85.9%
2Marin84.3%
3Ventura81.8%
4Sacramento81.7%
5Placer81.0%
N/ACalifornia average71.4%

Kings County has the lowest penalization rates for DUIs

In Kings County, only 52% of those arrested for driving under the influence are convicted of a related crime. Of the 944 arrests we analyzed in Kings County, only 469 cases (52%) resulted in a DUI misdemeanor or felony.

California counties that penalize DUI violations at the highest and lowest rates

Across California, the highest rates of convictions for a DUI are in Orange, Marin and Ventura counties, (84%). When it comes to which California counties are the most forgiving of DUI violations, there is a clear leader: Kings County at 52%. For DUIs, drivers in Kings County are penalized nearly 20% less than the state-wide average.

Orange County has the highest rate of DUI penalization

Across the state, California penalized 71% of drivers arrested for driving under the influence. But by county, penalization rates varied from as low as 52% to as high as 86%.

Orange County had the highest rate of DUI penalization in the state. Of 11,467 arrests, 84% were found guilty of a DUI misdemeanor and 2% were found guilty of a felony.

Rank
County
DUI penalization rate
1Orange85.9%
2Marin84.3%
3Ventura81.8%
4Sacramento81.7%
5Placer81.0%
N/ACalifornia average71.4%

Kings County has the lowest penalization rates for DUIs

In Kings County, only 52% of those arrested for driving under the influence are convicted of a related crime. Of the 944 arrests we analyzed in Kings County, only 469 cases (52%) resulted in a DUI misdemeanor or felony.

Drivers in some California counties are more likely to avoid a felony conviction

While a DUI can potentially result in a felony charge, drivers in Lassen saw all DUI violations convicted as misdemeanors. Lake, Shasta and Sacramento counties, however, saw the highest rates of DUI felony convictions, with approximately double California's average of 1.9%.

Counties with the lowest rates of DUI felony convictions

Rank
County
Rate
1Lassen0.0%
2Alameda0.6%
3Yuba0.7%
4San Mateo0.8%
5Imperial1.0%
N/ACalifornia average1.9%

Counties with the highest rates of DUI felony convictions

Rank
County
Rate
1Lake4.2%
2Shasta3.6%
3Sacramanto3.5%
4Placer3.5%
5Siskiyou3.3%
N/ACalifornia average1.9%

Some counties opt for reckless driving convictions

In counties, including Alameda, Colusa, Madera, Sutter and San Francisco, drivers in violation were more likely to be convicted of reckless driving than a DUI. These counties all saw reckless driving convictions above 15%.

Counties with the highest rates of reckless-driving convictions

Rank
County
Conviction rate
1Alameda18.2%
2Colusa17.2%
3Madera16.8%
4Sutter16.2%
5San Francisco15.4%
N/ACalifornia average9.6%

Meanwhile, not one driver in Ventura County received a reckless driving conviction. Marin, as well as Orange and Sacramento counties also had low rates of reckless-driving convictions. These areas were more likely to convict drivers of a DUI offense. Kings County, which has the lowest DUI penalization rate in California, was also in the top five for lowest rates of reckless-driving convictions.

Counties with the lowest rates of reckless-driving convictions

Rank
County
Conviction rate
1Ventura4.2%
2Marin3.6%
3Orange3.5%
4Sacramento3.5%
5Kings3.3%
N/ACalifornia average1.9%

California counties vary drastically in adjudication timelines

The timeline from a violation to a conviction varies a lot across the state. Madera County saw the longest average time from violation to conviction at just shy of a year (313 days), which is more than twice the California average of 119 days. Monterey County, however, saw the speediest adjudications at a mere 60 days.

Longest average time from violation to conviction

Rank
County
Average number of days
1Madera313
2Imperial295
3Contra Costa246
4Merced226
5Kings213
N/ACalifornia average119

Shortest average time from violation to conviction

Rank
County
Average number of days
1Monterey60
2Kern61
3San Joaquin63
4San Luis Obispo65
5Santa Cruz68
N/ACalifornia average119

What are the consequences of driving under the influence?

California drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher may face severe legal repercussions. Consequences may include substantial fines, license suspension or revocation, jail or prison time, probation, community service and more.

Additionally, motorists with a DUI conviction are likely to pay substantially higher car insurance costs in California due to the increased risk associated with their driving records.

These are the legal ramifications of a first, second, third and fourth offense for driving while intoxicated in California.

First offense

For the first DUI conviction, an offender may be required to

  • Fines up to $3,600, plus additional penalty fees in some cases
  • Up to six months in jail
  • Driver's license is surrendered for at least four months
  • Three months of DUI school
  • Three- to five-year DUI probation

Second offense

For the second DUI conviction, an offender may be required to

  • Up to one year in jail
  • 18 to 30 months of DUI school
  • Fines up to $4,000
  • Driver's license is surrendered for up to two years
  • Ignition interlock device must be installed on your car
  • Three- to five-year DUI probation

Third offense

For the third DUI conviction, an offender may be required to

  • Up to one year in jail or up to 16 months in prison
  • Fines up to $18,000
  • Driver's license is surrendered for up to three years
  • 30 months of DUI school
  • Ignition interlock device must be installed on your car
  • Three- to five-year DUI probation

Drivers with a DUI conviction may also be required to carry SR-22 insurance until the state restores driving privileges.

Methodology

DUI arrest and conviction data from 2006–2016 in California was collected from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Counties were only included in the analysis for a given violation if they had at least 100 convictions in the most recent year for which data was available.

We apply the term "penalization" when the violation was categorized by the California DMV as a misdemeanor DUI, felony DUI or reckless-driving conviction. We define "no penalty" as an instance when there was no record of any conviction associated with the arrest.