Highway Patrol increasing use of sobriety checkpoints statewide
The South Dakota Highway Patrol is on pace to break its record of sobriety checkpoints held in a year. As of Wednesday, the Highway Patrol completed 10 checkpoints in December, bringing its total to 245, or nine fewer than any year that has been ...
The South Dakota Highway Patrol is on pace to break its record of sobriety checkpoints held in a year.
As of Wednesday, the Highway Patrol completed 10 checkpoints in December, bringing its total to 245, or nine fewer than any year that has been tracked. And, at the start of the month, the Highway Patrol expected to conduct 21 checkpoints in December, which, if all are completed, would set the record.
"The increasing number of checkpoints is a reflection of our continued commitment to deal with the DUI issue. It is one of the many ways that we are using to help reduce the number of drunk driving arrests," said a statement from the Highway Patrol, as officials responded to questions as a group via email.
The number of sobriety checkpoints set up by Highway Patrol has only been tracked since 2013. That year, 188 were completed. There were 218 checkpoints in 2014, and 2015 holds the current record of 254.
Along with checkpoints, DUI arrests have risen in the past few half-decade. In 2011, the Highway Patrol made 9,246 DUI arrests. In 2014, troopers made 11,756 arrests, and 2015 was just behind with 11,282. Those numbers are all DUI arrests, not just those resulting from checkpoints.
Law enforcement will continue to watch for drunk drivers throughout the upcoming Christmas season, but holidays do not hold any particular concern for troopers, according to the Highway Patrol, as they are concerned about DUIs year-round.
Mitchell Assistant Police Chief Mike Koster shared the sentiment, but he said there could be more people driving thanks to Christmas celebrations.
"I think drinking and driving is a problem any time of the year, and with more Christmas celebrations, there may be more people on the road who may have been to Christmas parties or celebrations," Koster said.
Mitchell police don't set up sobriety checkpoints on their own, but Koster said the Highway Patrol asks for help when a checkpoint is scheduled in Mitchell.
So instead of setting up sobriety stops, Mitchell police will be patrolling the town as usual.
"As any other day, our officers are out there trying to be proactive, making sure that the people in the roadways are safe and obeying the laws," Koster said.
Troopers, too, have other plans with enforcing the law this holiday season.
"Checkpoints are a good tool, but they are just one method we use to try to reduce impaired drivers," the Highway Patrol said. "We plan to conduct high-visibility patrols and aggressive DUI and seat belt enforcement."
Visibility is key, even at checkpoints. The Highway Patrol said the biggest change regarding these sobriety stops in the last 10 years has been signage. Troopers have added signs, traffic cones and other items to make stops more visible and safer.
But the Highway Patrol also cares about legal drivers and wants to make the stop as quick as possible, so troopers may share just a few words with each driver to keep traffic moving smoothly.
"The goal is to make the checkpoint as unobtrusive as possible while still being able to determine if there is any evidence of impairment of the driver," the Highway Patrol said.
In the majority
South Dakota is one of 38 states that conducts sobriety checks, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The 12 that don't are Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The South Dakota Office of Highway Safety received $1.1 million this year from the federal government's National Priority Safety Program to set up countermeasures to impaired driving, according to the GHSA. The state received $1.09 million in 2015.
The Highway Patrol said Office of Highway Safety grant funds are available to pay for checkpoints, but the amount allocated specifically to the anti-DUI stops was not available.
So far in 2016 in South Dakota, Pennington County has been the most-heavily patrolled in terms of sobriety checkpoints, with 18 occurring between Jan. 1 and Dec. 7, according to stats provided by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Minnehaha County was close behind with 17, followed by Brown, Butte and Codington with 14. In Davison County, there were six sobriety checks.
Of 44 counties checked, the ones with the fewest checkpoints were Aurora, Faulk, Grant, Hanson, Hand, Hutchinson, Lyman, Marshall and Tripp, all with one checkpoint this year.
This year, the Highway Patrol set up at least 17 checkpoints every month throughout South Dakota. The most patrolled months were September and July with 25, followed by January with 24. There have been 10 so far in December.
In 2015, sobriety checkpoints were conducted in 49 of the state's 66 counties, another four-year high. The checkpoints were set up in 44 counties this year, the second highest number in four years, but all the remaining checkpoints are scheduled to take place in counties that have already been checked earlier in 2016.
According to the Highway Patrol, locations are determined by alcohol- and drug-impaired crash data, as well as DUI- and alcohol-related arrest data.
The checks could occur at any time, day or night, but are also based on crash and arrest data. While the Highway Patrol shares the counties in which checks will take place, the exact location and dates remain a secret.
"It could be anywhere in the county and any time during that month," the Highway Patrol said.
The counties slated for sobriety checks this month are Brookings, Brown, Butte, Codington, Custer, Day, Gregory, Hughes, Hutchinson, Jackson, Jerauld, Kingsbury, Lincoln, Meade, Minnehaha, Pennington, Roberts, Spink and Yankton.
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol and the Office of Highway Safety, doesn't only focus its efforts on the road. Officials are also focused on educating the public about drunk driving, so individuals make smart choices before they get behind the wheel.
"The department and its agencies, including Highway Patrol and Office of Highway Safety, have been very active in its public education about the dangers of drinking and driving," the Highway Patrol said. "We continue to do public service announcements, saturation patrols, high-visibility enforcement and other messaging that will help get that message to motorists."