A recent sobriety checkpoint in Fayetteville confirmed a pattern; drunk driving is down. 

“I’m thrilled to death that the checkpoints don’t result in more arrests than they do. That’s great news,” said Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock. Of 155 charges brought against violators during the latest checkpoint, only seven were for DWI. Police roadblocks are staged regularly in Fayetteville and across North Carolina to enforce the “Booze It & Lose It” anti-drunk driving campaign. “It’s becoming a stigma for people to drive drunk,” Medlock added.

With every gain, there’s a loss: The checkpoints are resulting in dozens of drivers being cited for driving without a license or proper vehicle registration. Medlock says his officers use discretion in deciding whether to issue warning tickets or citations when motorists are caught without licenses. He calls it “compassionate law enforcement” for officers to take personal circumstances into account before ticketing them. In the recent checkpoint on Robeson Street at Weiss Avenue late on a Friday night, cops cited 47 drivers for not having licenses or current motor vehicle registrations. Some others received warning tickets but those numbers were not available.

Another 49 drivers were arrested for driving while their licenses were revoked. What about them? “Personally I think all those folks ought to go to jail,” Medlock said. But again he has compassion for some. “I’m not a bleeding heart liberal, but you have to take into account a person working six days a week trying to feed a family, who misses his court date and now has an extra burden.” That’s a time when an officer takes circumstances into account before writing a ticket. 

Some law enforcement officials believe it would be a deterrent if cars could be impounded for driving without a license and other major traffic violations. 

“There are only a few specific laws that allow us to impound vehicles,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Baker, such as a driver who is apprehended after fleeing from police. That’s a felony — or, when a driver is found impaired within 30 days of a DWI license suspension.” Motorists whose cars have been impounded can appeal the decision before the Clerk of Court, who determines the disposition,
he added.

There apparently is no mood in Raleigh to strengthen impound laws. Changing the law to allow impounding “would be too strict a penalty,” said Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland), Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “If I make an arrest for driving with a revoked license I have the authority to have the car towed,” Chief Medlock clarified. But towing is not impounding. Medlock says it is nonetheless a severe penalty when towing and storage fees are taken into account.

Among other charges filed during the Robeson Street checkpoint were 26 various other traffic violations, five for open alcohol containers, five inspection violations, seven misdemeanor drug violations, three felony drug arrests and a handful of other charges. Also, 13 people with active ‘wanted’ warrants were taken into custody. All in all, a successful operation. It involved 76 officers of local police departments and the State Highway Patrol.

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