Laylan Connelly

Officers Pleasantly surprised to find few drunk drivers on road

By Laylan Connelly

After five hours of testing for drunk drivers, Motor Officer Dave Caveney was busy shutting down the DUI checkpoint early Saturday morning when suddenly one last driver roared up.

"Someone yelled for me to watch out. I saw the lady was on a cellphone, and I said no way she’s going to stop," Caveney said.

Caveney quickly ordered the driver of a white car that had been pulled over to move out of the way.

"The lady came to a stop right where the white car had been," Caveney said. "If it hadn’t been moved, it would have been hit."

Caveney approached the driver and knocked on her window.

"She had no clue I was there. She was yakking away on the phone," he said.

So the Manhattan Beach Officer began banging on the driver’s side door.

"After a good minute she opens the door and asks what’s going on. It was clear she was hammered," he said.

After taking a blood test, the woman was arrested for driving under the influence and spent the night in the Manhattan Beach lockup. It was only the third DUI arrest made after a five-hour checkpoint at the intersection of John Street and Manhattan Beach Boulevard.

High Tech Arsenal

Thirty officers spread over half a block, with signs and cones announcing their presence. There were also five computers, a TV monitor and a breathalyzer, courtesy of the California Highway Patrol.

Despite the army of officers and their high-tech arsenal, only three arrests were made. But rather than being disappointed, officers were pleasantly surprised at the checkpoint results, claiming that their efforts are paying off.

"I think everyone has been touched by a drunk driver. We all know someone who has been hit," Sergeant Andy Harrod said. "If we save one person from being hurt, it was well worth it. The ultimate goal is to inform people that the law enforcement is out there."

The number of arrests at this checkpoint is fewer than previous checkpoints that the police department has participated in. Officers think it may be because driver education is finally paying off.

"I thought with the Lakers game going on, it would be busy," CHP Sergeant Doug Morgan said. "But it looks like people are doing what they should be doing, getting alternate means of transportation or taking taxies."

In order to educate motorists, the officers passed out flyers with some staggering statistics.

According to the CHP, one of every two Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident within his or her lifetime. Nearly 23,000 people are killed every year in alcohol-related traffic accidents. In addition, one American life is lost every 22 minutes in an alcohol related traffic accident.

Grateful Drivers

Although motorists were held up by the checkpoint, they were not kept waiting for long.

"By law, we cannot hold up the line for more than three minutes," Morgan said.

The wait didn’t bother motorists. Most seemed grateful and smiled at officers as they were told to continue down the road.

"Most people respect what we are doing," Harrod said. "I really think the educational process is working. There are a lot of taxis out tonight, and we get a lot of praise from non-drinking drivers."

Because the Manhattan Beach police lack the proper equipment, they were joined at the checkpoint by the CHP.

"The level of support is so strong, it makes the checkpoint very successful," Harrod said.

The CHP was funded by a grant called Sobriety Checkpoints and Roving Enforcement Program, or Scare III. The program began in April 2000, and will continue through June, 2002. It allows the CHP to join other forces to administer the checkpoints, as it did Friday night with MB police.

In 2000, the south L.A. division of the CHP arrested 2,021 people at checkpoints, a twenty-two percent decrease from the previous year. This year, there have been 1,091 arrests to date.

Before a person is asked to blow into the Breathalyzer machine, police generally administer five other tests to determine if the Breathalyzer is necessary.

"We want to give the person every opportunity to pass these tests before taking the breathalyzer tests," said Manhattan Beach Officer Mark Mason. "We look for nystagmus, which is the involuntary movement of the eyes, and the odor of alcohol on the suspect."

A suspect is asked to participate in a routine of instructions. They include following the finger movement of an officer, walking heel-to-toe and turning, standing with one foot off the ground, and putting their finger to their nose.

If officers feels the suspect has had too much to drink, they will administer a preliminary breathalyzer test, called the passive alcohol screening test, which will give officers a general idea of the amount of alcohol the person has consumed.

If the number of the passive alcohol screening test is above .08, the suspect will then be given the option to take a blood test or to take the state regulated Breathalyzer.

"We must wait twenty minutes before giving them the Breathalyzer test," Mason said. "Readings can be thrown off by cigarette smoke, vomit, cough syrup or even chewing gum."

The checkpoint is not the only means of finding drunk drivers. The South Bay Regional police officers are a group of officers who go out once or twice a month to find drunk drivers.

"They are officers from all cities in the South Bay, from Palos Verde to Inglewood. They send one or two extra officers out a month who concentrate specifically on taking drunk drivers off the street," Harrod said. "It is a very successful program. It shows that all of the police departments are working together to get drunk drivers off the streets."

"Most importantly, it sends a message to the motorists," Harrod said. "A message that a city cares enough to put a check point up in their area." ER