Virginia Police Increasing Sobriety Checkpoints and Patrols During the Holidays


Virginia is again ramping up its Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign, a program aimed at reducing drunk driving through increased police activity and sobriety checkpoints. Through December 8, 2020, there were 253 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Virginia, up from 249 in the same period in 2019, according to a press release from Governor Ralph Northam’s office.

“Although fewer vehicles have been on the road during the pandemic, our data shows no decrease in the devastation caused by selfish drivers who choose to get behind the wheel when impaired,” said Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard Holcomb in the press release. “Many of us will be spending the holidays at home this year, but if you are going out and your celebration involves alcohol, please make a plan for a safe ride home before you start drinking.”

State and local law enforcement will conduct over 700 saturation patrols and 100 sobriety checkpoints from December 18, 2020 through January 1, 2021. In a saturation patrol, a large number of police officers concentrate in a specific area for a set period of time, a strategy that increases police visibility to deter impaired driving. Checkpoint Strikeforce is a year-long program that resumes periodically around certain holidays.

“Saturation patrols can have advantages over sobriety checkpoints, including increased effectiveness, reduced staffing, and comparative ease of operation,” a Centers for Disease Control website states. Checkpoint Strikeforce also features the “Act Like It” ad campaign featuring adults behaving like children. The intent of the saturation patrols, sobriety checkpoints, and advertisements is to increase the perceived risk of being caught driving drunk.

“Every year during the holidays, there is an increase in drunk-driving related fatalities and crashes across the nation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in December 2018, there were 839 lives lost in drunk-driving crashes nationwide. Of the 839 deaths, 285 occurred during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period,” states a Virginia State Police press release.

Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Paul Goldman said sobriety checkpoints might be unconstitutional. In August, he told The Virginia Star, “Basic law is, you can’t just pull somebody over and arrest them without probable cause …. Where’s the probable cause? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

There isn’t really a good option for someone caught in a sobriety checkpoint, Goldman said, even though they seem to exceed the law. “I guess you have to roll down your window, you have to stop, be polite,” he said.

“Getting drunk drivers off the road, telling people, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be driving, you’re impaired,’ that’s a good thing. But doing it in a constitutional way, that could be a difficult thing. So how do you combine a good thing with a difficult thing,” Goldman said.  “Well, it seems to me you have to err on the side of the Constitution.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]






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