Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Winter holidays result in increased DUI patrols in Virginia

Now that fall has begun its rapid descent into winter, temperatures have also started to drop across Virginia. You may notice the first appearance of holiday decorations outside of homes and in stores. With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching and Christmas right on its heels, many people will spend the next few weeks shopping and getting ready to spend quality time with their loved ones.

Law enforcement officers across the state of Virginia will be hard at work, although instead of planning parties, they will be organizing sobriety checkpoints throughout the state. The holidays often result in people drinking and attending parties, which can lead to unsafe road conditions.

To reduce the risk of impaired driving crashes during the holiday season, Virginia authorizes sobriety checkpoints at which police officers can confirm the sobriety of those driving on public roads.

Are sobriety checkpoints legal in Virginia?

The first question most people have about sobriety checkpoints is whether these enforcement efforts violate someone's rights under federal law or Virginia state law. Both federal and state regulations allow for the use of sobriety checkpoints as a means of reducing drunk driving crashes.

However, driving through a sobriety checkpoint is not compulsory. You do have the right to stop and change your route if you approach a roadblock. Still, it is possible that law enforcement officers will view your attempt to avoid the checkpoints as evidence of potential impairment, resulting in an individual traffic stop.

Officers will speak to you to check for telltale signs of impairment. If they suspect any issues, they may ask you to exit the vehicle for a field sobriety test or chemical breath test.

Why do officers increase enforcement efforts around the holidays?

Few things can disrupt your enjoyment of the holiday season as quickly and as thoroughly as getting caught up in an enforcement effort and dealing with the criminal charges that may result. However, for some families, the holidays can become a permanent source of sorrow when a drunk driver causes a crash that claimed the life of their loved one.

The days directly before and after major holidays, including the weekends closest to the holidays, tend to be days where the rate of impaired driving crashes increases drastically. Not needing to work for a few days can inspire some people to really get wild at holiday parties or family gatherings. For others, the stress of needing to deal with family members may push them to indulge more than they would otherwise.

To keep yourself safe, your best choice is usually to avoid getting behind the wheel after drinking, as well as to avoid driving during the later hours when people leaving bars may be on the road on holidays and the days immediately before and after them.

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