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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 31st, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 43 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 43

Checkpoints help Santa Maria move down intoxicated accident ladder


The Santa Maria Police Department uses DUI checkpoints as a deterrent for drunk or drugged driving. Combined with other enforcement tools, the number of people injured or killed in drunk-driving accidents in Santa Maria has decreased over the last five years.

The Santa Maria Police Department wasn’t kidding when it said police were going to crack down on impaired driving over the holiday season. During December, police screened 1,287 vehicles at three different checkpoints and arrested six people for driving under the influence.

Maybe six DUIs doesn’t sound like a lot of people for all that effort—putting out cones, pulling in extra police officers, and shining flashlights in more than 1,000 vehicles—but officials said the point of checkpoints is not to arrest people.

“The main tactic behind a checkpoint is its deterrent effort,” said Chris Cochran from the California Office of Traffic Safety. “It’s very visible.”

He said checkpoints get drivers to see that intoxicated driving is illegal and socially unacceptable, and to show them that police are out there looking for it. Pulling people over for intoxicated driving serves a different purpose, Cochran said.

“One saves lives; the other arrests drunks,” he said.

A grant from the Office of Traffic Safety enables Santa Maria to conduct its checkpoints. Cochran said checkpoints get people to think twice about driving after a couple of drinks or doing drugs. On average, he said, the amount of fatal crashes drops 20 percent when areas conduct enough highly visible checkpoints. That statistic is according to a study done by the Centers for Disease 

Checkpoints and other methods of enforcement, such as saturation patrols—more cops than normal out on the streets looking for reasons to pull people over—have stepped up in Santa Maria over the last few years to target intoxicated and unlicensed drivers. December’s checkpoints also netted 24 unlicensed drivers.

As a result of its efforts, Santa Maria is doing better than it used to in terms of the number of people injured or killed in accidents caused by drugged or drunk driving. In 2007, the city ranked No. 1 on the list of California cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 people. In 2011, Santa Maria ranked ninth.

“In general, DUI checkpoints are only part of the SMPD’s larger-scale program to combat drunk driving,” Santa Maria police sergeant Jesus Valle told the Sun. “However, they are an integral part of it; not only do DUI checkpoints effectively serve their deterrent purpose, but they have also allowed us to remove numerous drunk drivers off the streets of Santa Maria over the years.”

While the city’s ranking has decreased, the number of alcohol-involved crashes is still high. Between September 2009 and September 2012, 423 DUI collisions claimed four lives and resulted in 120 injuries, according to a press release sent out by 
the SMPD.

Santa Maria isn’t the only city in California that’s stepped up enforcement efforts over the past few years. California conducts more checkpoints than any other state in the nation. Cochran said checkpoints funded through the Office of Traffic Safety peaked in 2010, with 2,500 conducted throughout the state. Now, those numbers have leveled off to between 1,700 and 2,000 checkpoints 
per year.

The Office of Traffic Safety funded an estimated $14 million worth of checkpoints throughout California in the last year. Those checkpoints resulted in the arrest of 5,375 drunk drivers between October 2012 and September 2013.

Though arresting people is one result of a stepped-up effort against DUIs in Santa Maria, the point of all of it—cones, lights, and extra officers—is to hopefully prevent people from driving drunk in the first place, thus saving lives.


Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.

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