Orange County has one of the highest numbers of DUI arrests and fatal DUI related accidents in the state. Though some of this is related to population size, some are calling for stricter enforcement of DUI laws in the county. One of the enforcement techniques used is setting up police DUI sobriety checkpoints. Checkpoints have long been believed to be very effective at decreasing drunk driving in an area.
Checkpoints cost money to set up however. Most police units will not set up sobriety checkpoints unless they are able to receive grant money to fund the project. According to an article in the Orange County Register, Costa Mesa, California received one such grant through the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Police in Costa Mesa set up 10 checkpoints a year and average about 6 arrests each time.
The most recent checkpoint took place the Friday before Halloween – a big weekend for drunk driving. Police report that 7 arrests were made, 6 for suspicion of DUI and one for another crime. In total, the article reports that 345 vehicles were stopped and 37 sobriety tests were administered. There is no specific information on the 6 people arrested for DUI.
Some people are critical of sobriety checkpoints because they often result in very few arrests. In fact, many DUI checkpoint arrests actually result when drivers make U-turns in an attempt to avoid being stopped. Under California law, it is considered probable cause for a police officer to stop a vehicle that appeared to be avoiding a checkpoint. In the latest Costa Mesa checkpoint, for example, 4 of the 6 DUI arrests were made after police witnessed drivers making U-turns.
Police believe that sobriety checkpoints do a lot of good by increasing awareness of both the dangers of DUI and the fact that police are constantly out to arrest DUI drivers. Costa Mesa police Sargent Bryan Wadkins had this to say about the effectiveness of checkpoints:
Police could probably arrest more people if they took the same number of officers working at the checkpoint and instead stationed them outside bars from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m., Wadkins said. But in that case, those arrested would be the only ones getting the message that there are ramifications for drinking and driving.