Tony Bizjak

Back-seat Driver: Grant helps battle drugged drivers

Published: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 6:28 am

Sacramento County has won nearly $2 million in state grants to fight what highway safety officials say is one of the biggest dangers on the road – drivers impaired by drugs.

For decades, officials have put the squeeze on drunken drivers. Now, they say drugged driving – including abuse of prescription drugs – is a bigger factor in crashes than previously believed.

Some Sacramento County law officials and prosecutors already have gotten special training in identifying drugged drivers.

Now, the county will get $740,000 for drug testing equipment. The new machines are faster and detect more drugs, including a group with the street name "bath salts," which are like amphetamines.

The District Attorney's Office will get $1.2 million to fund specialized prosecutors.

State Office of Traffic Safety head Chris Murphy said he sees a big battle ahead to persuade drivers that drug-impaired driving is wrong, even when the impairment is caused by a prescription drug.

"We are with drugs now where we were with alcohol in the 1950s," he said.

Palms up!

San Francisco Boulevard in the Colonial Heights neighborhood of Sacramento has regained some of its historic splendor. The street, once a trolley route, used to be lined with huge palm trees from the early 1900s, but the trees have been dying for decades from pink rot.

The city ripped out the remaining handful this spring, and planted 105 new fan palms. City urban forester Joe Benassini said they will grow to 40 feet.

The city and residents first thought about planting trees with broader canopies, but decided palms are the historic way to go.

"In the long run, it gives something back that complements what was there originally," Benassini said.

Signage fight

Yolo County Transportation District head Terry Bassett is upset with Senate Bill 556, a bill by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, that would require government contractors who have government emblem or insignia on their uniform to also wear an emblem saying, in capital letters, "NOT A GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE." That goes for the worker's vehicle, too.

Yolo Transit buses are driven by contract drivers. Bassett said that means his buses must have large letters, taking up nearly the entire side of the bus, saying "THE OPERATOR OF THIS VEHICLE IS NOT A GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE." That's overkill, he said.

In materials for her proposal, Corbett said the bill lets people know when they are dealing with a government subcontractor rather than a government employee, something people ought to know if there are service delivery problems.

Her bill is supported by labor unions.

Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.

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