Grand Avenue lit up like a Christmas tree Sept. 28, as Cal Poly University Police (UPD) conducted a driving under the influence (DUI) checkpoint from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday morning. Cars stopped single file on Grand Avenue coming onto campus, and each driver was individually questioned and examined by a local law enforcement officer.
The checkpoint was part of the countywide “Avoid the 14” campaign, a collective effort by San Luis Obispo County’s 14 law enforcement agencies to decrease incidences of people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, UPD officer Max Schad said.
“The main point of the checkpoint is visibility, showing that we’re serious about DUIs,” Schad said.
That seriousness comes out in the thorough inspection of each driver who passed through the checkpoint.
Every car was stopped, and an officer asked for the driver’s license, whether they’d been drinking and then tested for horizontal gaze nystagmus. This means the officer moved his finger back and forth in front of the driver’s eyes to see how well the driver was tracking movement.
This test is an easy way to see whether someone is under the influence because an intoxicated person’s eye movements will be jerky without the intoxicated individual realizing it, Schad said.
“It’s something that the person under the influence doesn’t really realize is happening, but it’s really obvious,” Schad said.
Those who passed were allowed to continue on their way, and those who had issues were stopped and tested further.
UPD received grant money from the “Avoid the 14” campaign to conduct the checkpoint, as well as some equipment, such as a trailer. Officers from different agencies around the county also volunteered to assist in UPD’s checkpoint.
This makes the “Avoid the 14” checkpoints truly collective, Schad said.
“It’s fun,” Schad said. “It’s a good interaction with people.”
At the start of the night, the officers present were upbeat and optimistic about the event.
Officers hoped the checkpoint wouldn’t turn up any DUIs, UPD sergeant Larry Ponting said.
“That’s what we’re hoping for; everyone comes out clean,” Ponting said.
Nonetheless, by 8:30 p.m., a driver was stopped for showing signs of being under the influence of drugs. He admitted to having smoked marijuana more than an hour before, and UPD officer Frankie Herrera then conducted a field sobriety test.
As the driver chatted nervously about school and his afternoon, he was patted down and asked his name and identifying information. Then, Herrera had the driver participate in several tests, including closing his eyes, tilting his head back and counting to 30, as well as walking a straight line.
After a half hour, Herrera consulted with the officer who had stopped the driver. They decided to allow the driver to leave because he didn’t meet the legal requirements for a DUI, Herrera said.
As the driver left, Herrera said he hoped the driver would at least learn from his run-in.
“We always hope that they learn from this and don’t do it again,” Herrera said.
In Herrera’s experience, though, UPD doesn’t often turn up DUIs during these sobriety checkpoints, he said.
“I’ve been working DUI checkpoints for almost 10 years,” Herrera said. “We’ve only gotten one DUI out of all of them.”
The checkpoints mostly produce citations for possession of marijuana, drugs or open containers, Herrera said. When he worked in Santa Barbara, checkpoints often found many people driving without licenses, but that’s less common at Cal Poly, Herrera said.
Friday night’s checkpoint wasn’t without its own citations, though. According to UPD’s daily police log, the checkpoint turned up three alcohol violations.
Most drivers, however, simply showed the officers their licenses, underwent the test of their horizontal gaze nystagmus, and were allowed to go, some thanking the officers before they drove off.
Electrical engineering sophomore Bobby Jones was one student stopped at the checkpoint. He’s been through two before, and they’ve never bothered him, he said.
“It’s not a big deal,” Jones said.
Other students, such as microbiology senior Kim Prall, had never been through a checkpoint before.
Prall passed her test easily, but said the DUI checkpoint was unexpected.
“I’m kind of surprised because I’ve never done it before,” Prall said.