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COVID-19/DWI Checklanes and Speeding

The Taos, New Mexico Sheriff’s Department set up DUI checklanes recently to not only distribute information about the coronavirus, but also to try to make some DUI arrests. They stopped 500 cars and made 0 DUI arrests. They did distribute pamphlets about COVID-19. I don’t know who it is that is not aware of the coronavirus situation of the past 6 months but apparently the health information campaign was more successful than the DUI enforcement operation.

In Johnson County, Kansas, there have been DUI saturation patrols and some local DUI checklanes. I don’t know how successful they have been. It is somewhat questionable whether mass contacts with the public during a time of the pandemic is a good idea. In Taos, the deputies were exposed to 500 random people. The drivers and passengers in those cars were exposed to the deputies, albeit briefly and outdoors. Handing documents and pamphlets back and forth is also little risky. So, DUI checklanes are not real effective during normal times but it really seems like they might be a bad idea during a health epidemic.

Data is emerging from the National Safety Council that the shutdown and quarantine certainly made the roads a lot emptier, but it also made them more deadly. Traffic fatalities are sharply higher since March despite there being way fewer cars on the roads. These fatalities are not due to drunk driving, but excessive speed. The less cars on the road, the faster some people tend to drive, resulting in an increased risk of an accident and a higher impact accident due to the speed. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has exposed our road safety culture for what it is,” said NSC President Lorraine Martin. “We did not reap the safety benefits we should have experienced.” The article linked above also quotes Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors’ Highway Safety Association, “The No. 1 concern from governors’ highway safety offices is five letters: speed”. So, perhaps law enforcement would do better to be out enforcing the speed limit as opposed to setting up DUI checklanes.

It may be a while before the data on DUI arrests in Kansas are known for the period of time between March and now in 2020. Anectdotally, it appears as though there has been a drop in the number of arrests during that time, although it is not clear whether this is a result of less people drinking and driving in Kansas City or law enforcement being out in smaller numbers and attempting to avoid contact with the public unless absolutely required. There is no question that alcohol consumption has risen during the pandemic. Bars are open, although at perhaps lower capacity. So, people are drinking. As long as that is the case, DUI enforcement will remain a priority with most police agencies in Kansas.

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