It’s amazing what a half million dollars can do. It can buy you a month’s rental for a suite at a New York hotel, or an incredibly advanced belt buckle.

But when the federal government laid that sum on Raleigh’s police department to combat drunk driving, the police set up a series of very efficient DWI checkpoints. So efficient that, by November of last year, officers had bagged more than 2,800 drunk drivers.

And while the effort has certainly made North Carolina’s roads safer, it has also created a fierce backlog. In North Carolina DWI cases tend to drag on, as there is no incentive to plead guilty – plea bargaining is not allowed. So the courts are suffering from jammed-up calendars full of DWI cases.

One solution would be more funds to pay prosecutors and operating costs, so that Raleigh DWI courts could process more cases. Another solution would be to stop the checkpoints and let those drunk drivers stay on the road.

Fortunately, no one has proposed that latter solution.

Keep in mind that these checkpoints are not creating drunk drivers – they are merely catching them. Those impaired drivers were on the road, despite diminished judgment, slow reaction time and, in some cases, blurred vision.

Each one of those arrests was a bullet dodged by the citizens of Raleigh. Alcohol kills about four hundred people a year on North Carolina’s roads.

What is the answer to this unintended consequence of Raleigh’s excellent efforts to catch drunk drivers? One possible help would be to boost the number of ignition interlocks that are mandated for offenders. At present, North Carolina is one of 26 states that do not mandate ignition interlocks for first DWI offenses. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

An all-offender ignition interlock law would help in the long run, because statistics show that ignition interlocks lower the recidivism rate for drunk driving. While drunk drivers would still be arrested, many fewer would be re-arrested.

A proven technological means of reducing carnage on the roads, interlocks could help clear up the traffic jam in the Raleigh’s courts as well.

 

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Arrested for DWI in North Carolina: What Now?
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