Police: DUI roadblocks return for holiday season

With the holiday season under way, police once again will take to Hawaii County’s streets to conduct DUI roadblocks, according to Torey Keltner, Hawaii Police Department Traffic Services Division program manager.

“(Police Chief Paul Ferreira) has recently authorized the roadblocks again,” Keltner told the Tribune-Herald.

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The DUI checkpoints had been discontinued because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, in favor of so-called “saturation patrols,” in which additional officers are stationed in areas known to be likely routes for impaired drivers.

Officers will be wearing masks at the roadblocks, according to Keltner.

“They’re going to take steps to make sure that the public is safe,” Keltner said. “That’s been the consideration and the concern of the chief.”

Keltner testified briefly Thursday morning before the County Council about three bills seeking the release of federal grant funds to police for traffic enforcement. All three bills, introduced by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, passed their second readings unanimously.

The first of the bills released $64,917.10 into the department’s roadblock program account, which makes the total appropriation for the current fiscal year into that account $424,917.10. The funds will “be used to reduce the numbers of drivers operating a vehicle while impaired.”

Keltner told council members the funds for the roadblocks are needed because of the significant increase in traffic fatalities this year, 25, as opposed to 14 at this time last year, an increase of 78.6%.

“The checkpoints are a visual deterrent,” Keltner told the Tribune-Herald after the meeting. “People see them, then the word gets out that officers are out there doing them. And officers are in contact with a whole lot more people (than with saturation patrols), sometimes hundreds of them.”

Of those 24 traffic deaths, impairment was a factor in 11 of the fatalities and is suspected as a contributing factor in the two most recent deaths, both within the past week.

Seven of the traffic fatalities were related to drugs, one was related to alcohol only, and three traffic fatalities were due to a combination of alcohol and drugs.

So far this year, there have been 948 DUI arrests compared to 853 during the same period last year, an increase of 11.1%.

There were COVID-19 related lockdowns for a portion of last year, which also included closures of bars and sit-down restaurant service — which meant a lower number of vehicles on Hawaii Island’s roads, lower DUI arrest totals, and significantly fewer traffic fatalities in 2020 than the 25 on the island’s roadways in 2019.

“The higher volume of people on the roadways, the higher number of DUIs you’re going to have. When more people are driving, there are going to be more people consuming alcohol or using drugs and driving, as well,” Keltner said.

The roadblock program account also provided funding for the saturation patrols police have conducted since pandemic measures were taken by county government in March 2020.

The second bill transfers $97,880.80 to the department’s distracted driving project account “to reduce the number of drivers using electronic devices while operating a vehicle.” The total amount appropriated to that account this year is $171,880.80

The third measure deposited $8,020 in the department’s speed enforcement account for a total appropriation of $254,020 this fiscal year.

Impaired driving, distracted driving and speeding are all factors contributing to traffic collisions and fatalities.

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“This is not new information,” Keltner said. “No fatality is an acceptable thing. They can all be prevented if people follow what the laws say and do what’s safe.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.