DUI checkpoints could be related to fewer crashes

The heat is on, but it’s not your usual summer high temperatures.

In this case, the heat is coming from law enforcement on would-be drunken drivers.

As in past years, the Colorado State Patrol is working with other local law enforcement agencies around the state, conducting DUI checkpoints.

The checkpoints don’t always result in tickets for driving under the influence of alcohol, but they often nab the most impaired drivers, said Capt. Ed Clark, head of the State Patrol’s Fruita office.

The law requires police to warn motorists that a checkpoint is ahead and then to give them a way out before they drive through. While that may seem counterproductive, Clark said people come through anyway.

“Sometimes people are so impaired they miss (the signs) and drive right into it, thinking it’s a crash,” he said. “Other times people don’t think they’re impaired yet, so they’re pretty confident that, ‘Oh, I had three glasses of wine, but I’m sure I’m good.’ Judgment is the first thing that goes when you’re drinking.”

Clark said it’s difficult to determine how effective the checkpoints are, but there has been a steady decrease in the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities over the past few years, he said.

Last year, his office dealt with 12 such fatal accidents, but only two so far this year. At the same time, the State Patrol had 86 injury crashes by this time last year compared to 60 this year, a 30 percent decrease, according to patrol records.

Additionally, property-damage crashes by the end of June last year were 526 compared to 408 this year, while there were 39 non-injury-alcohol crashes by this time in 2009 and only 24 in the first half of this year.

Clark said generally half of all accidents are alcohol- or drug-related.

This is the third year the State Patrol has conducted DUI checkpoints, Clark said. Measuring how effective checkpoints are, though, is nearly impossible because issuing tickets isn’t the only point, he said.

“Enforcement is one aspect, and education is another,” he said. “The intent is to impact all the people who are driving by the checkpoint as well. They go, ‘Oh my gosh, the cops are out doing checkpoints,’ which impacts all the people that they tell, too. We live in a large community, but I think it’s small enough that we can have a positive effect.”

Clark’s office has operated six DUI checkpoints so far this year, with six more slated by the end of the summer. They are being paid for from a $25,000 federal grant, which covers overtime and other costs, he said, adding that troopers and area law enforcement officers who help are not taken off their regular patrols to conduct the checkpoints.

Clark warns that motorists who choose not to go through the checkpoints aren’t safe from avoiding a DUI citation. That’s because he routinely places troopers around the checkpoint to nab those impaired motorists who try to skirt them.

“If you’re intoxicated and you realize that’s a checkpoint, they’ll do some kind of aggressive avoidance maneuver that’s generally against the law,” he said.

Clark said he’s not required to reveal the dates, times and locations of his checkpoints, though he often will say when they will be held but not where.

While other law enforcement officials occasionally will reveal that information, Clark said this is a small community, and doing so would make them less effective. His next checkpoint is slated for later this month.

Motorists who repeatedly drive while drinking also could face increasingly stiffer penalties for their second and subsequent DUIs, under a new law approved by the Colorado Legislature this year.

Among other punishments, the new law that went into effect July 1 calls for mandatory jail time for subsequent alcohol-related offenses.


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