Super Bowl Sunday typically brings a rash of drunken car crashes, but it’s not the worst day

In a Budweiser commercial, actress Helen Mirren tells viewers during the Super Bowl in 2016 that it’s dumb to drink and drive.
In a Budweiser commercial, actress Helen Mirren tells viewers during the Super Bowl in 2016 that it’s dumb to drink and drive. Anheuser-Busch

Super Bowl Sunday is definitely one of the big party days of the year. But is it the worst day for drunken driving crashes in California?

A noted California study shows it’s a bad one, but likely not the worst. That honor goes to New Year’s Eve, according to research conducted by the Automobile Club of Southern California in the mid-2000s.

The nine-year study of major holidays and special-occasion days found drunken driving-related injury crashes were 41 percent higher on Super Bowl Sunday than on other Sunday nights in January or February. New Year’s Eve scored an even higher 44 percent crash spike. Christmas ranked third.

“Nighttime drinking and driving on Super Bowl Sunday, while not quite the highest of the year, is an even more predictable phenomenon (than other special occasion days) year in and year out,” wrote Steven Bloch, then a senior research associate for the Auto Club.

An Auto Club follow-up review in 2015 showed a higher spike – 77 percent – during five recent Super Bowl Sundays. That update did not analyze other holidays.

Taking into consideration all fatal crashes, including those not involving alcohol, July 4 is the worst, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That study looks at specific dates and doesn’t include the Super Bowl, which changes dates each year.

State Office of Traffic Safety officials said their review of federal data indicates the spike in alcohol-involved fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday is similar to the spikes that typically occur on Friday and Saturday nights.

Sacramento city police plan a DUI checkpoint this weekend on Saturday night. In doing so, police say they hope to send a message that will resonate through the weekend. They will publicize the location once they determine where to put it.

“It’s a prevention technique,” Sgt. Bryce Heinlein said. “It puts it in front of people’s minds that we take this seriously. We may do one on Sunday, too.”

Sacramento police will introduce what they call “saturation patrols” Sunday night. That involves putting the department’s traffic team on duty, alongside patrol officers, to focus on DUI. Police traffic team members are trained to detect drugged driving as well as drunken driving – now more important with legalization of marijuana.

In contrast, California Highway Patrol Sacramento Valley Division spokesman Rafael Cervantez said the state agency does not typically put extra units on the roads on Super Bowl Sunday around California.

Traffic is typically benign during the day Sunday, especially during the game. Sunday’s game starts at 3:30 p.m. and likely will last 3 1/2 to four hours. Cervantez said that is when traffic ticks up. CHP officers on duty in the Sacramento area have orders to focus on drunken driving.

Last year, the CHP made 360 drunken driving arrests statewide on Super Bowl Sunday. CHP data show that was the second-highest number of DUI arrests for any day of the year, behind 374 on the Sunday during Labor Day weekend when the CHP launched a weekend-long drunken driving crackdown.

Cervantez said he personally has arrested many people on suspicion of drunken driving on Super Bowl Sunday just blocks from their homes.

If you are trying to decide whether you are capable of driving home after the game, Cervantez said, “remember, buzzed driving is drunk driving.”

State safety officials are pushing for people out at parties and bars to designate a sober driver for the ride home, or to call a taxi or rideshare service.

The state Office of Traffic Safety has a Designated Driver VIP, or “DDVIP,” free mobile app for Android or iPhone. The DDVIP app helps find nearby bars and restaurants that feature free incentives for the designated sober driver, from free non-alcoholic drinks to free appetizers and more.

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Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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