Flashing lights and traffic cones greeted motorists at the intersection of 7th street and Federation Drive June 8 as the Long Beach Police Department’s Traffic Division orchestrated a sobriety checkpoint from 7PM to 3AM in an effort to remove intoxicated drivers from city streets.
In the city’s seventh sobriety checkpoint carried out since the LBPD was awarded a grant by the California Office of Traffic Safety-to help pay for additional officers to man the checkpoints- over 2,000 vehicles were processed at the intersection.
With the help of the Long Beach Police Explorers, Long Beach Search and Rescue and the Long Beach Police Reserves, LBPD officers screened 525 of the 2,480 vehicles that passed through the checkpoint Saturday. According to a press release, those screenings led to three arrests for driving under the influence, 12 citations for unlicensed driving, four citations for suspended licenses and four vehicles being impounded.
According to police spokeswoman Marlene Arrona, the grant awarded to carry out the sobriety checkpoints from the COTS ends with the fiscal year in September. The grant, which requires one checkpoint to be conducted during each of the two national mobilization periods and 12 total checkpoints to be carried out before September 30, was finalized in December 2012. To date, the LBPD checkpoints have yielded a total of 23 DUI arrests, 35 citations for unlicensed driving, 36 citations for driving with a suspended license and 24 impounded vehicles.
Sobriety checkpoints have been a point of debate in recent years with some experts stating that they are less cost effective than rolling patrols which put more officers on the streets in hopes that they can spot drunk drivers individually rather than funneling them through often times well publicized checkpoints. Compounding the problem is the proliferation of Smartphone apps that advertise the location of such checkpoints helping potentially drunk drivers to avoid them entirely.
One such app, "DUI Dodger" is marketed as a way to “fight back” against DUI check points as the program allows subscribers that purchase it ($4.99 in the app store) to view checkpoints ahead of time anywhere within a 50-mile radius of the user’s location. The app also features a game which allows the user to mimic a field sobriety test of walking a straight line by holding their phone face up with their arms extended as they attempt to a walk a straight line for five to ten seconds.
National statistics show that driving impaired, either under the influence of drugs or alcohol, causes one death every 33 minutes. The press release states that the average American has a 30% chance of being killed or injured by an impaired driver and that checkpoints like the one last Saturday helps to reduce this kind of behavior by removing impaired drivers from the streets.
In May, the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that states lower the legal blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05 percent, which is the standard in most other countries. According to an article published last month in the New York Times, more than 6,600 impaired drivers are involved in fatality accidents, causing about 10,00 deaths nationally with the blood alcohol content of those drivers being at or below 0.16 percent. Drivers under the age of 26 cause the most auto fatalities in the country regardless of their blood alcohol level. However, 21 percent of those drivers involved in fatality crashes have some alcohol in their system.
Funding for the program was taken from a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Administration. For further information, contact Traffic Section Sergeant Aaron Alu at (562) 570-7338.