By Gina Morton
LEWISBURG -- Police officers say a checkpoint that catches no drunken drivers should not be considered a failure.
"It's a deterrence program," said Douglas Lauver, alcohol enforcement coordinator and co-coordinator of the North Central Highway Safety Network's Regional DUI Enforcement Group. "Ideally, the goal is not to make any arrests for DUI."
Lauver, who has been overseeing the regional effort since 1992, said statistics show the success rate is improving.
"The biggest change (from 1992 to now)," Lauver said, "is the number of arrests. They have gone down drastically. I remember when I first started, we had four or five every time. Now we only have one or two."
He said there also is a huge increase in designated drivers.
From Aug. 13 to Sept. 1, there will be a national crackdown on driving under the influence to promote alcohol enforcement, a combined national effort to team up on checkpoint efforts to combat drunken driving across the country, he said.
Lauver's co-coordinator, Sgt. Scott Hahn, said the regional group hopes to hold at least two checkpoints during that period. Dates and places are advertised in advance.
"Officers are talking to drivers," Lauver said, "and putting themselves in contact with people in a professional manner. They explain the reason (for the checkpoint) is to make the highway safe and that they are helping the driver from one place to another with safety."
Hahn said the regional program receives about $25,000 a year from state and federal funding to hold checkpoints in Union, Snyder and northern Northumberland counties.
Every three to four weeks, Hahn and Lauver try to schedule one. "One of our main goals is public exposure," Lauver said. "You go through a checkpoint, and when you go home, you tell your friends and family. You talk about it and get exposure of it, more awareness. Hopefully, it will make you think twice before getting behind the wheel."
Hahn agreed, saying by making the scene a spectacle with lights, trucks and cars, the checkpoints make an impression on motorists going through them and prompt them to talk about the stops with others.
Checkpoints begin by determining a site location, based on statistics regarding alcohol-related crashes and arrests. A safe location on that area of road is used, and local police departments are invited through mutual-aid agreements to help with the event.
All times, dates and locations are statistically driven.
Lauver said anywhere from 14 to 20 officers are used at a checkpoint, depending on the volume of traffic expected.
During a DUI checkpoint, Lauver said an officer will identify himself to the driver and explain what is going on. The officer will check license, registration and insurance, and while doing so, check for signs of impairment.
"Ideally, this all happens in a 30-second conversation," Lauver said.
Ultimately, the driver will be allowed to continue through unless there are signs of impairment or other evidence that he may be intoxicated. Like any other traffic stop, Lauver said, the driver will be taken to a testing area to do field sobriety tests if needed.
At the most recent DUI checkpoint, held on Route 11 outside of Northumberland in May, Hahn said 923 cars were stopped and two people were charged with DUI. Several license, registration and insurance problems also were found.
Roving patrols also are included in the funding, Lauver said, when extra officers are put on the streets to target aggressive driving.