If you or anyone you know likes to go out on the weekend to enjoy dinner and a few cocktails with friends, then you know that DUI (driving under the influence) checkpoints are something to avoid, at all costs. DUI arrests result in more than $13,500 in fines, fees and other related expenses per individual, and those three martinis with dinner simply aren’t worth the trouble, nevertheless endangering oneself or anyone else on the road by driving impaired. But for those who are not drunk, DUI checkpoints can be nerve wracking, annoying and a waste of time.
Last weekend, the cities of Oxnard and Ventura set up random checkpoints, screening 705 and 871 cars, respectively.
Of the total 1,576 cars screened, nine DUI arrests were made (three in Ventura and six in Oxnard) and 47 cars were impounded (20 in Ventura and 27 in Oxnard, mainly due to driving without a license or with a suspended license).
While we understand the importance of getting drunk drivers off the road for everyone’s safety, including their own —
Oxnard has one of the highest DUI crash rates in the state — let’s call a spade a spade.
In an article published by the VCStar on Saturday, March 20, it was reported that the city of Oxnard generated more than $600,000 on impound fees during the last fiscal year. While parking citations were noted as the real revenue generator at more than $1.5 million for the same period, impound fees generate a significant amount of revenue for Oxnard’s general fund. In order to get a car out of impound, the Oxnard Police Department’s vehicle release fee is $495, a figure set by the Oxnard City Council; Ventura Police Department’s vehicle release fee, according to officials, is $150, less than one-third of what Oxnard charges.
The California Office of Traffic Safety also issued its annual string of grants specifically to fund DUI deterrent programs on Oct. 1, 2009, to cities throughout the state. While in previous years these grants would fund officers to patrol just for DUI arrests, this year’s grants are for checkpoints only — of which the office proclaimed it to be “The year of the checkpoint.” Both Ventura and Oxnard have increased the number of checkpoints since then, which Oxnard already had significantly more checkpoints than Ventura for the 2008-’09 fiscal year because of another grant.
The real issue here is that while we stand by the efforts of both police departments in getting drunk drivers off the road, there are dozens of drivers who are taken off the road and having their cars impounded at these checkpoints that have had nothing to drink. We know there are people who are driving on suspended licenses for past DUIs and other criminal offenses that should not be on the road, but as the story pointed out, many people are just trying to make a living and go about their regular lives that, due to their immigration status, are not allowed to obtain a license, or insurance for that matter. People are also having their cars impounded for driving with a suspended license because they couldn’t afford to pay costly traffic tickets for minor infractions, which led to the suspension.
There are some real flaws in our system. It seems as though these DUI checkpoints are about more than just trying to deter drunk drivers. Just as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to ticket speed violators with red light cameras in order to generate revenue earlier this year, the high impound rate and fee, especially in Oxnard, can only be looked at as suspicious. Given that Oxnard impounded 359 cars while making 50 DUI arrests at checkpoints last fiscal year, compared to 17 cars impounded and 12 DUI arrests at Ventura’s checkpoints for the same time period, we hope that the intention behind DUI checkpoints are truly to deter drunk drivers and not to make money for cities.