Virginia law enforcement agencies have increased Driving Under the Influence (DUI) enforcement efforts as part of the 19th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign.
The campaign began Wednesday, and will last until Labor Day. It will be resumed periodically during specific holidays. The state and its partners are using a combination of ad campaigns, advance notification, increased patrols, and physical checkpoints to deter drunk driving.
The Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign is part of a partnership with the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which has released a new “Act Like It” ad. The ad series features adults dressed as infants and drinking from children’s cups.
In an email, Virginia State Police Public Relations Director Corinne Geller wrote, “As a participating agency, state police will be increasing its DUI prevention efforts through enforcement and education. Enforcement efforts include increased patrols in areas that have traditionally or recently demonstrated an uptick in alcohol-related crashes and/or arrests.”
Geller noted that the state police will partner with local agencies to operate check points. “From an education aspect, state police will be promoting key campaign messaging through traditional and social media channels, and in public safety outreach and presentations,” Geller said.
A press release from the Office of the Governor states, “Last year, nearly one-third (31.9 percent) of traffic fatalities in Virginia were due to alcohol-related crashes, and 18,648 people were convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in the Commonwealth. During Labor Day weekend alone, Virginia State Police personnel arrested 76 drunk drivers, averaging a DUI arrest every 75 minutes.”
DUI and COVID-19
The enforcement campaign is using data from new research that surveyed 21- to 35-year-old males in July. “Of the men surveyed, 52 percent said that they have needed a safe ride after drinking more or the same amount this year in comparison to last year, showing the desire to socialize despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” the press release from the Office of the Governor states.
The Virginia Star emailed several small and medium-sized police departments across the state, asking if they have seen decreasing DUI arrests in 2020 when compared with 2018 and 2019 year-to-date. Most of the departments agree that numbers have gone down this year, although one department’s results suggest that their decreased DUI results are part of a multi-year trend.
Officers from the departments suggested various reasons for the decrease in DUI arrests this year, including staffing shortages, no overtime for extra enforcement during COVID-19 lockdowns and fewer people driving during the lockdowns.
Waynesboro Police Department Captain Kelly Walker said his department’s numbers were probably also affected by staffing shortages, including in 2020. The department’s DUI arrests year-to-date match previous years. However, the pattern this year was different. “March and April were very low, but as things have opened up, arrests for DUI have picked up as well,” Walker said.
Constitutional lawyer Paul Goldman is concerned about the legality of DUI checkpoints. Officers need to establish probable cause before they stop individual drivers. Goldman said the same reasoning should apply at DUI checkpoints.
“They could not just stop you and pull you over and ask you to take a breathalyzer test. I don’t believe that’s constitutional,” Goldman said.
Goldman said that practically, if someone is stopped at a checkpoint but not drunk, it is best to just be polite and move through the checkpoint. However, there is not a good option for someone who is intoxicated.
“So on the one hand, yeah. Getting drunk drivers off the road, telling people, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be driving, you’re impaired,’ that’s a good thing. But doing it in a constitutional way, that could be a difficult thing. So how do you combine a good thing with a difficult thing? Well, it seems to me you have to err on the side of the Constitution.”
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