For the December 2008 holiday season, Monterey County is launching a campaign named “Avoid the 18″ anti-drunken driving campaign to combat drivers who choose to drink or intake toxic substances then drive during this holiday season.

DUI arrests are up by an increased 41 percent this year over last year, according to the latest statistics in this field. This past December, three local law enforcement agencies have logged 55 arrests of people on suspicion of drunken driving or other intoxication. This increased tendency to drink and drive has heightened the defense and protection of law enforcement agencies.

In the 2007 holiday season, only 39 people had been arrested at this point in the campaign, said Jan Ford of the California Highway Patrol.

For the two weeks through New Year’s Day, law enforcement agencies operating in this county, along with the California Highway Patrol, will pull extra weekend and holiday enforcement duties during the “Avoid the 18″ DUI crackdown.

“We haven’t had a (DUI-related) fatality in two years,” Ford said. “Having zero fatalities is prettier than any Christmas ornament this holiday season.”

Extra law enforcement traffic patrols are planned for Marina and King City on Dec. 27, and another is planned for Salinas on Dec. 28.

According to the “California Avoid” Web site, drunken driving is one of America’s deadliest crimes. Nationally, two years ago, nearly 16,000 people died in crashes involving a driver under the influence or motorcycle operator. In California, nearly 1,600 people died in DUI related crashes in the same year.

There are similar “Avoid” campaigns in 40 other of California’s 58 counties. Each of these campaigns are named for the number of participating law enforcement agencies in those counties.