DUI cases in the age of COVID-19

Fatal Westlake collision brings to light the dangers of driving under the influence


Road Sign on Westlake Blvd. shortly after the incident. (Photo courtesy of Hana Chizzo/Talon)

On the night of Sept. 29, two young boys were struck by a car in Westlake Village. The victims were brothers, both under the age of 12. One died on the scene, while the other died hours later at the hospital.  

It was later confirmed that the driver, Rebecca Grossman, was driving illegally under the influence. On Sept. 30 she was arrested on suspicion of two accounts for manslaughter. 

“Authorities said the brothers were hit by a car in front of their parents and siblings as they crossed the street Tuesday night at Triunfo Canyon Road and Saddle Mountain Drive in Westlake Village,” reads a report by ABC Eyewitness News and the local sheriff’s department.

Grossman is currently out of jail on a two million dollar bond. Her name might sound familiar as she is the co-founder of the Grossman Burn Foundation, a branch of the Grossman Burn Center whose mission is to help give burn survivors and their families the care and support they need. 

Unfortunately, fatal DUI collisions are not rare. In fact, drivers who have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05% are two times as likely to get into a car crash then drivers who are sober. To put this statistic into perspective, in California it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher if you are over the age of 21. For drivers under the age of 21, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.01% or higher. 


Artwork by Mina Jung/Talon

“Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This is one death every 50 minutes,” according to a report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, every 15 minutes a teenager will die due to drunk driving. But, there is hope for teen DUI cases. According to Drive-Safely.Net, educating teenagers on the dangers of driving while under the influence, and being a passenger to someone who is under the influence is extremely important. Drunk driving rates among high schoolers have gone down 54% since 1991.

People driving under the influence can burden citizens who are not directly involved in an incident. The fact that DUI incidents occur so often can cause not only concern, but terror and phobia for students and parents alike.

“I think that driving while under the influence has zero benefits and personally, I don’t understand any reason as to why anyone would do it,” Junior Matthew Tu, a licensed driver, wrote to the Talon. “I think this topic should be considered a big issue and brought up to more people around the world to spread awareness.”

According to Low Cost Interlock, on average for every one alcoholic drink consumed, a person’s blood alcohol will increase by 0.02%. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration all the different factors of how the individual processes alcohol. If one does have a blood alcohol of 0.08% or higher they will start experiencing impairment to muscle coordination (including speech, balance and vision), judgement, self-control and reasoning. However, at a blood alcohol of 0.05% one can experience minor loss of muscle control, exaggerated behavior, released inhibitions, reduced alertness and impaired judgement. 

“Even with a [blood alcohol] of 0.02, which is equivalent to about two drinks, your body will become more relaxed, and your judgment will begin to waver. If you’re driving, you may experience a decline in visual function, and you may have trouble multitasking,” reads a report by Low Cost Interlock.

A question that has come up recently is how to handle DUI cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Orange County DUI Lawyer Blog, there is an apparent halt to DUI checkpoints. DUI checkpoints are a process that police officers conduct following a pattern. An example of this could be stopping every third car to evaluate if the driver of the stopped car has any alcohol or drug-induced impairment. The patterns vary slightly depending on the officers who conduct the checkpoints.

As of May 20, courts have also been closed to the public. Individuals who are charged with a DUI have to arrange a video appearance, with plea agreements and trials on a hold.

“DUI arrests have seen significant declines. San Diego County has reported a 50% decline in DUI arrests. Other nearby counties, including Orange County, have not released recent DUI statistics, but anecdotal evidence reported for the state indicates that California DUI arrests are significantly lower,” reads the Orange County DUI Lawyer Blog.

It has come to psychologists’ attention that isolation due to COVID-19 can result in excess drinking. In fact, alcohol sales rose 27% in just the first three months of the pandemic. Although there has been a decline in traffic, sheriffs worry that this might give a driver under the influence a chance to speed since usual traffic is not constraining them. On the other hand, sheriffs have said that the decline in traffic has made it easier to spot suspected drivers under the influence. 

“People aren’t going out to bars as much, but continue drinking at home,” Shawana Driggs, mother of five previous and present Oak Park Unified School District students, wrote to the Talon. “[DUI cases] should be [at] a decline, but the number of people [staying at home while under the influence] may be higher. The message to not drive if you drink is still important.”

According to an article published by the New York Times in 2017, the year Uber was launched in California, “the number of alcohol-related crashes every month decreased by 6.5 percent among young drivers.” However, in a poll done by Statista, 54% of participants would be “much less likely” to use ride-hailing services such as Uber if the current COVID-19 virus spread to their community.

“Driving under the influence is a big issue. It is one of the greatest dangers to innocent lives that we have in our community that is completely avoidable with services like Uber, Lyft and Dial a ride,” Driggs wrote.

DUI cases occur every day and put innocent people at a risk of injury or even death. Driving under the influence can and should be avoided at all costs. 

“We should always be aware and cautious at all times when driving and report drunk drivers when we see them,” Driggs wrote.