Do you know why drunk driving is the most frequently committed crime in this country? Or why convicted drunk offenders — even those who have their licenses suspended — continue to drink and drive? And why one in three people arrested for DUI has a prior conviction for drunk driving?
There is one simple answer to these questions: drunk drivers realize that their chances of being detected, apprehended or arrested for breaking the law are extremely remote.
These disturbing realities have plagued law enforcement officials and highway safety advocates for years and impede efforts to reduce alcohol-related fatalities and injuries.
The typical offender drives drunk between 200 and 2,000 times before he or she is arrested the first time. If bank robbers knew that they could rob between 200 and 2,000 banks before they ran a serious risk of being arrested, how many bank robberies do you think we would have in this country?
One of the most promising solutions to the nation’s serious drunk driving problem is increasing the use of sobriety checkpoints on the roads. Checkpoints work for several reasons. They increase the risk of apprehension for impaired drivers, whether alcohol and/or other substances impair them. Checkpoints make laws already on the books more effective.
Equally important, sobriety checkpoints enable communities to increase enforcement of traffic laws without heavily burdening the enforcement system. This is a huge consideration because law enforcement agencies across the country are all too often stretched to the limit.
Unfortunately, traffic enforcement is one of the first areas to suffer when there are budget cuts and increased demands to focus on other types of crime.
Sobriety checkpoints involve police officers stopping motor vehicles on a nondiscriminatory lawful basis to determine whether drivers are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Police stop all vehicles on a systematic selection of vehicles passing through the checkpoint.
Sobriety checkpoints serve as a specific deterrent because they detect and lead to the arrest of impaired drivers passing through the stop. More importantly, they are a general deterrent to drinking drivers. Checkpoints increase the perceived risk of arrest if they are well publicized, which they should be.
In most communities, law enforcement officials advise people in advance of the time and location of sobriety checkpoints.
In addition of drunk driving arrests, sobriety checkpoints result in other arrests for felonies such as stolen vehicles, drug violations, and outstanding felony and fugitive warrants.
Checkpoints are cost-efficient and do not result in long traffic delays. The wait typically is comparable to waiting at a traffic signal. Those who argue that checkpoints infringe on their individual freedoms do not hesitate to go through a metal detector before they board an airplane.
Yet more people were killed last year in alcohol-related crashes on U.S. highways in a single week than died during the entire year in all airline crashes combined. Sobriety checkpoints reduce impaired driving, save lives, and get dangerous people — dangerous for many reasons — off the roads and even behind jail bars.
Seventy-nine percent of Americans support the use of sobriety checkpoints. They and/or other high-visibility enforcement projects should be a part of every ongoing program to deter would-be drunk drivers in communities nationwide. Local law enforcement officials use sobriety checkpoints and local citizens appreciate them.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving encourages our local officials to use checkpoints year around and especially during the Sobriety Checkpoint Emphasis travel time beginning May 27 through Sept. 6, which includes Memorial Day, July Fourth holiday and the heavily traveled Labor Day Holiday.
Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.