Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but our hunch is that the police checkpoints intended to curb drunken driving this summer were a success. Word filtered out that even a couple of drinks could land someone behind bars for the night and result in fines or the loss of driving privileges for months, even on a first offense. This is good news for those who prefer safer roads, and it merits a tip of the hat for the many local officers, as well those from other departments, who put in long nights here to make this happen.
Over Labor Day weekend, for example, Suffolk County officers helped log eight arrests on Saturday night alone in Southampton Village. East Hampton Town police had 19 D.W.I. arrests during the weekend. In mid-July, Operation Nitecap, in which state, county, town, and Sag Harbor and East Hampton Village police staffed two checkpoints, resulted in 20 arrests in an eight-hour period. Police were helped by money from a county Stop-D.W.I. fund, which helps pay for the overtime required when additional officers are called in during the long processing of most drunken driving cases.
Unlike the usual handful of late-night stops in which an officer will spot a swerving car or broken taillight on a vehicle driven by one of the usual suspects, the checkpoints produced a wide cross-section of allegedly drunken drivers. Outrage from some, however, greeted the police effort. One person in high dudgeon even wrote to several South Fork newspapers protesting that a psychiatrist who found himself in handcuffs in July had been subjected to something “right out of Nazi Germany.” This was nonsense, of course, but it spoke to a certain sense of entitlement among some of our summer visitors.
Having read in these pages about far too many motor vehicle accidents over the years, we know that the view that a couple of drinks can’t hurt you when you are behind the wheel is far from accurate. We applaud the law-enforcement initiative and think there should be more of them. There are still far too many drunken drivers on the roads. Efforts like these help get the message out that sometimes it is better to hand the car keys to someone else or call a cab.