Checkpoints up safe driving

Published 9:01 pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

Any weekend or holiday driver has likely run into more than one DWI checkpoint. For the law-abiding, a checkpoint is a minor inconvenience; for others, it may mean a night in jail.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation released its “Booze It and Lose It” numbers for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. In Beaufort County, eight people were arrested on DWI charges, three of them underage. This compares to a high of 54 arrests for driving while impaired in Wake County, and a total of 690 statewide March 15 through March 17.

On March 16, Washington police set up a checkpoint at Clark’s Neck Road, manned by officers from the Washington Police Department and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol on one side and the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office on the other side of the county line. One person was charged with DWI.

Many in law enforcement believe the low numbers at checkpoints around the county indicate the initiatives like “Booze It and Lose It” and “No Need 2 Speed” are having a positive effect on local drivers.

“We hope that the checkpoints act as a deterrent,” said Capt. J.W. Pollard with the Washington Police Department.

They likely have. Highway Patrol First Sgt. Brandon Craft said in his 18 years on the job, the number of DWIs issued by troopers has dropped dramatically.

“Ten or 15 years ago, we’d probably arrest 15 to 20 (a week), but in the last 10 years, we average anywhere from eight to 10 DWIs a week in this district — which is eight to 10 too many,” Craft said.

Troop A, District IV, covers Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrell and Washington counties.

Craft said District IV troopers charged five people with DWIs last week, outside of any checkpoints. Rather, normal traffic stops for other violations, other people calling and alerting troopers to suspected drunken drivers and drivers involved in collisions are often how the NCSHP tracks down those driving while intoxicated.

“But this is our slow time of year right now,” Craft said. “The warmer it gets, the more DWIs we’ll get.”

Pollard, who headed up multi-force DWI checkpoints for Beaufort County for several years, said the checkpoints are located strategically.

“There’s got to be a need,” Pollard said. “It’s where there’s been a DWI in the past, the likelihood of DWIs driving through, but it’s also where it can be done as safely as possible. It has to be well lit, in a place where drivers have plenty of time to see it and stop.”

Craft said the NCSHP plans to have a big DWI initiative this weekend due in part to the Easter holiday, and he had this to say to drivers: “It’s not worth the possibility you could take your own life, get in a wreck and hurt yourself — or, even worse, someone else — or the years and years of trouble it causes: court costs and fines, insurance points, attorney’s fees. It’s just not worth it.”