SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — More than a 100 sobriety checkpoints involving thousands of vehicles yielded fewer than 350 Driving Under the Influence arrests from January 2022 through early September 2023, according to data from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
But the number of arrests isn’t the only way to measure the apparent success of sobriety checkpoints, said Col. Rick Miller of the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
“We look at it as a success if people aren’t driving while intoxicated,” Miller said. That success point is nearly impossible to measure.
There is no way to know if people were texting each other or using social media to remind others to find a sober ride home, Miller said.
The DPS announces the sobriety checkpoints ahead of time with the goal that if the public is informed, it will make the wise decision to not drink and drive, Miller said.
The highway patrol has a good idea that sobriety checkpoints do deter driving while under the influence because troopers have seen vehicles in bar parking lots the morning after a sobriety checkpoint, Miller said.
Counties with the largest populations in the state generally had the most checkpoints and consequently, the most DUI arrests.
But Day County, whose county seat is Webster, in the north central part of the state, had five sobriety checkpoint events which resulted in 11 DUI arrests. About 300 vehicles were involved in those checkpoints. That was more DUI arrests than the events in Brookings County which resulted in fewer than 10 DUI arrests.
According to various law websites, South Dakota is one of 38 states and the District of Columbia that allows sobriety checkpoints.
“We don’t do sobriety checkpoints,” said Kevin Krull, the public information officer for the Iowa Department of Public Safety District 6 State Patrol office. District 6 covers a chunk of northwestern Iowa including the counties of Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien and Osceola.
Krull said the highway patrol doesn’t organize a checkpoint where every fifth vehicle is stopped, as an example of a sobriety checkpoint.
Sobriety checkpoints in South Dakota are “minimally intrusive,” Miller said. Miller said it’s typically a quick stop in which the trooper asks the driver to roll down the window and asks if the driver has had anything to drink. The trooper will pay attention to the driver’s eyes and response.
Often, if the driver’s reply is no, the vehicle leaves the checkpoint, he said.
At least 10,000 vehicles have been involved in sobriety checkpoints from January 2022 through early September 2023. Based on the number of DUI arrests, only a fraction of those drivers were under the influence.
“If the trooper smells alcohol, or the person says they’ve had a drink,” that can prompt a closer look, Miller said.
Data from the state would support the DPS’s focus on reducing impaired driving.
Analysis by ForbesAdvisor.org and Safehome.org have ranked South Dakota in the top 10 of DUI arrests for the past several years. The state has been ranked as high as third.
Alcohol contributed to 37% of all crashes in South Dakota from Jan. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022, according the DPS crash dashboard.
Miller said the request for a sobriety checkpoint comes through the district office. The troopers may be concerned about alcohol involved crashes or impaired driving in that area, he said.
Sgt. Alex Dinkla said the Iowa State Patrol does special enforcement events that may focus on problem routes, intersections or violations.
Those are saturation events where a number of state patrol officers are brought in, he said.
This spring District 6 did a saturation from April 20 to April 23 on Highway 60 in Sioux, O’Brien and Osceola counties. Krull said it was part of the Under 300 fatalities goal for 2023 for the highway patrol. There was also a focus on the criminal activity that follows the highway.
The saturation resulted in nine narcotics arrests, eight operating while under the influence (OWI) arrests, 59 speeding violations and others.
Krull said speed is also of particular concern has the state patrol has cited drivers in excess of 100 mph.
DPS districts can release the results of saturation or projects. Dinkla said the release of results will vary.
Krull said he has mixed feelings on releasing all the results. The public may get the impression the state patrol only wants to write tickets, Krull said. On the other hand, the release can show success with events.
South Dakota DPS has not typically released the results of almost always month sobriety checkpoints.
KELOLAND News requested the results from 2022 through early September in September and received those results this week.
Results from the sobriety checkpoints show that officers on duty make other arrests.
In January 2022, officers in Lawrence County had three DUI arrests, two non DUI arrests and five other arrests. In September of this year, officers in Moody County had one DUI arrest, one non DUI arrest and two other arrests.