Police step up DUI patrols around the Bay Area for holiday season

It's that time of year to raise a toast, and call a cab or rideshare. 

Alcohol consumption increases by as much as a third during the holidays, and with it, impaired driving. 

Across the Bay Area Friday night, police agencies put saturation patrols in the field or set up sobriety checkpoints.

"Anything to drink tonight?" asked officers in Novato, as drivers were swiftly evaluated. 

The maximum enforcement period will run through New Year's Eve.

"There is a tendency to drink more when you're out socializing," said Novato Police Sgt. Nick Frey, who heads the Traffic Division. 

Frey says when people are intent on celebrating, and consuming more than they're accustomed to, they tend to underestimate the effect. 

"They say 'I only had two drinks, or I only smoked a little marijuana, I only took a little bit of my medication, I feel okay, I should be fine to drive," said Frey.

But already there is evidence drivers are not fine to drive. 

DUI crashes are already racking up in the Bay Area this holiday season, including a double fatality in San Jose. Alcohol is considered a factor in that crash.

Almost 2% of California drivers report getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink. 

That equals almost a half million people - and that's only the ones who admit to it.  

"When I got the call it was 10:45 at night," said Kathleen Freitag, showing KTVU the memorial to her son, killed by an alleged drunk driver. 

"It's made me very aware that people are very reckless," said Freitag, as cars whizzed past the center island where she has arranged a Christmas wreath amid flowers and a photo of Alex Helldoerfer, 30.

On the evening of May 30, 2019, Helldoerfer was walking to his mother's house, when he was mowed down. 

He was in a prominent crosswalk, lit with pedestrian warning lights, but the driver, a woman his age, told police she didn't see him. 

She is charged with vehicular manslaughter and felony DUI.

Helldoerfer died of a massive head injury. 

"He was a very sweet, quirky boy, very very smart, very passionate," said Freitag, wiping away tears. 

She describes her son's personality as 'magical' and says he enjoyed music and movies, was an avid reader, and loved dogs. 

He had been helping her with her real estate business. 

Now, Freitag hopes the memorial prompts other drivers to think about being responsible and cautious.   

"Take care of yourself because it's not just about your behavior, it's how your behavior affects other people," said Freitag.

Helldoerfer was hit about a mile from where Novato police staged its checkpoint.  

"The penalties are real, you can be facing prison time," said Sgt. Frey, noting that even when there are no injuries, a DUI can cost a first-time offender $10,000 or more. 

"If you have to ask yourself if you've had too much, you've had too much," said Frey.

The Centers of Disease Control reports 29 people die in the United States daily from DUI-involved traffic accidents. 

That's one person every 50 minutes, and more than 10,000 annually.