No luck for drunk drivers

Published 10:08 pm Monday, March 21, 2011

As I headed home on Thursday night, I was delighted to see Suffolk Police operating a checkpoint on Portsmouth Boulevard.

Initially, since I was blinded by the massive amount of flashing blue lights, I thought the checkpoint was set up on both sides of the road on my way home from work on St. Patrick’s Day. As I began the arduous process of digging my driver’s license out of my purse, however, I realized the checkpoint was only catching those coming into the city. The eastbound side of the road was completely clear.

When I talked to Suffolk Police Maj. Stephanie Burch the next day, she told me it’s safer to set up a checkpoint only on one side of the road. It makes more sense to screen all the drivers coming into the city, rather than leaving it.

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The operation yielded one arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol and 49 summonses for traffic violations. The police also served three outstanding felony warrants.

“A lot of citizens were very appreciative of us being out there,” Burch told me.

The city has grant funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set up a checkpoint every quarter. Naturally, St. Patrick’s Day seemed like the obvious choice during a time of year that otherwise is relatively quiet.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2009 nationwide, 37 percent of the drivers involved in fatal crashes nationwide were driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Virginia State Police. There were 103 traffic fatalities nationwide that same year, the state police say.

The state police also conducted some checkpoints of their own this St. Patrick’s Day.

It is gratifying to see the police taking control of the problem by having checkpoints and extra patrols. One doesn’t have to look far to find the consequences of drunk driving — filled-in graves, shattered lives, tax dollars spent prosecuting and housing the offenders and millions of dollars’ worth of property damage.

If you’re inclined to drink — on a holiday or any day — please make use of the many options that are out there for you to avoid driving. You can designate a driver before you go out, call a taxi or take the bus, call a sober friend or family member, or just stay the night with a friend. Any option you choose will be better than driving home drunk.