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Large Truck Accidents | Featured Articles

July 27 2002 - Checkpoints

The Highway Patrol is putting northeastern South Dakota on notice that it will be conducting more than three times the number of sobriety checkpoints this summer than it normally does in an entire year.

It’s all part of the Highway Patrol’s effort to educate people about the state’s new drunken driving law, which went into effect July 1. The law allows police to charge motorists with blood-alcohol levels of .08 percent or above with driving under the influence. The previous level was .10 percent. “It’s certainly going to save lives,” said Highway Patrol Lt. Rod Olerud about the new law.

The eight Highway Patrol sobriety checkpoints held during the past two weeks resulted in 12 DUI arrests in northeastern South Dakota. The Highway Patrol will hold at least two sobriety checkpoints per week in this part of the state this summer. “Normally, we’ll hold eight to 10 checkpoints for an entire year,” Olerud said. “So this is a big increase. As law enforcement officers, our job is to enforce the law as well as educate the public. So we’re getting the word out about the new .08 law because people are talking about it and have questions.” Olerud said that those charged with DUI nowadays are usually first offenders with blood-alcohol limits just over the legal limit.

Aberdeen Assistant Police Chief Ron VanMeter said he’s not sure if the new law will result in a marked increase in DUI arrests. But he said it will cause a “fear factor” that will prompt people to think twice about drinking and driving. “It’ll probably cause more people to get rides rather than risking the drive home on their own,” he said. “And it’s another tool we can use to get drunk drivers off the road. I think it will definitely help.” Jim Billion, deputy state’s attorney for Brown County, said he doesn’t believe the new .08 law will significantly increase the number of DUI arrests in the state.

“Most of the DUIs we see are not in that minimum range,” he said. “They’re well above .08.” However, he said the new .08 statute coupled with a new law approved last year allowing someone’s third DUI arrest in 10 years to be treated like a felony will result in more felony drunken-driving convictions.

Previously, a person’s third DUI was only considered a felony if it was his or her third such offense in the past five years. DUI offenses are considered to be misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $ 1,000 fine. A third DUI offense in 10 years is a felony, punishable by up to two years in state prison and a $ 2,000 fine. Billion agreed that the .08 law will deter people from driving drunk, and thus has the “potential to save lives and prevent motor-vehicle accidents.

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