The New Year’s Eve holiday brought out a fair number of drunk drivers in the Rim Country Thursday night, but even more designated drivers.
Results of a local DUI checkpoint show more people chose to use a designated driver than drive drunk.
Of the 1,179 cars that streamed through a DUI checkpoint set up by the Department of Public Safety, Gila County Sheriff’s Office and Payson Police Department at the south end of town, designated drivers manned 56.
Five people were arrested for driving under the influence, according to DPS. That works out to one arrest for every 236 drivers that went through the checkpoint.
Two of those arrests were for aggravated DUI, one was a misdemeanor DUI and one was a DUI with a prior. A fifth person was arrested for possession of marijuana.
The highest blood alcohol rate topped out at .298 while the average blood alcohol was .172 for those arrested. Statewide, the average blood alcohol level was .156 for DUI arrests made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Payson Police Lt. Don Garvin described the evening as successful, despite the cold weather.
“Those are fairly low numbers for the 1,200 people we stopped,” he said of the arrests. “But the purpose of a DUI checkpoint is not apprehension, it is used mainly as a deterrent and education tool.”
Statewide, officers made 65,217 traffic stops from Thanksgiving through New Year’s with with nearly 15 percent of those resulting in DUI arrests. In 2008, 10 percent of those stopped were arrested for DUI. The average blood alcohol rate also increased from 2008 to 2009 by 4 percent.
Garvin said he was pleasantly surprised by local drivers’ reactions to the stop.
He said most people were happy to stop and even expressed thanks to the 11 officers for their efforts to curb DUI accidents.
“This is a lot different than normal, sometimes people feel put out,” he said by the checkpoint.
This is the first time in several years the three agencies have worked together at a checkpoint. In years when they don’t use a checkpoint, the number of officers working is increased. Garvin said using checkpoints every year could diminish their impact because people may see them as commonplace.
Of those arrested, Garvin said all were cooperative and there were no incidents.
Normally at a checkpoint, officers ask drivers if they have been drinking. If they say yes and an officer believes they are impaired, they are given a screening. If they say no and officers believe they are impaired, they also get screened. If someone says they had a glass of wine hours ago and officers do not feel they are impaired, they are allowed through, Garvin said.
For the driver arrested for marijuana, Garvin said the DPS officer smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming out of the vehicle.