Drunk Driving Culture in Sonoma County

Last week, Sonoma Councilmember Kelso Barnett was arrested for drunk driving. He received many expressions of support and forgiveness from fellow councilmembers at the next evening’s meeting (“Sonoma Vice Mayor Arrested on Suspicion of DUI,” 02/16/2022).

This weekend we learned that County Health Officer Sundari Mase was arrested for a DUI last year. (“Sonoma County health officer charged with DUI last year and pleaded to lesser charge, records show,” 02/18/2022). It was not her first DUI.

Let that sink in a minute. The person most responsible for health and safety of our county…engages in one of the behaviors most deadly to the community.

People driving under the influence have killed 140 and injured over 300 people in Sonoma County since 2008. 30% of fatal crashes are caused by impaired driving.

We have lost family members to DUIs and sat with the bereaved at several trials of impaired drivers that killed or maimed cyclists, the most recent being Mark Osborne, killed by Ulises Valdez. Both victim and driver were affiliated with local wineries, and industry folks discouraged us from reporting on the winery connection.

When former Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli was accused of sexual assault, the community erupted appropriately with righteous outrage.  Why have Barnett and Mase’s actions not caused similar outrage? There have been so many online comments along the lines of “oh, her job is stressful” and “he apologized, so it’s ok…” THEY COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEBODY. You. Or me. Or one of our coworkers, children, spouses, friends, neighbors.

Our culture is far too accepting of impaired driving, distracted driving, driving at excessive speed, …. we seem to valuing one’s right to drive a car over others’ right to safety.

If you are tired of this, sign the county’s Vision Zero Pledge and pass it on to others.