Increased DUI Prevention in New Jersey Despite COVID-19
The novel coronavirus pandemic has altered American life. In fact, traffic in New Jersey has been down more than 60% at points during the pandemic, which has led to fewer traffic deaths, accidents and violations in the state in more than 50 years. Despite those numbers—and despite the reduced access to bars and restaurants—incidents of driving under the influence may be on the rise, which is why Morristown criminal defense lawyers warn that deterrence efforts by traffic cops have increased.
Driving Under the Influence in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the terms DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) are recognized equally and can be used interchangeably. We’ll use DUI here and going forward for the sake of clarity and consistency, but all of the information provided here applies in both cases. In this state, a DUI carries penalties when a person of legal drinking age has a blood alcohol concentration at 0.08% or above or when a person not of legal drinking age has a BAC at 0.01% or above. Punishment depends on the severity of the offense and, if applicable, the number of previous offenses. The most common penalties include:
- Fees and surcharges
- Community service
- Driver’s license suspension
- Automobile insurance surcharges
- Mandatory ignition interlock device
- Driver education program participation
Is a Rise in DUIs Unexpected?
It depends on who you ask. On one hand, there are significantly fewer people on the roads, and fewer of those people are drinking while driving because there is less access to bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol. On the other hand, many people are working from home or have temporarily or permanently lost their employment. Many people have more free time than usual and are under great stress from the pandemic itself as well as the ancillary challenges. Consider that during the pandemic, alcohol sales went up 55% compared to years prior, according to the Nielsen market research firm. Morristown criminal defense lawyers and area traffic police also warn that DUI cases tend to rise during periods of elevated stress and loneliness, such as the holidays, and many people are experiencing stress and isolation like they never have before.
Are Other Factors Causing Increased DUIs?
NJ Transit—which encompasses both buses and trains—provides transportation for more than 800,000 passengers a day. Public transportation is available late at night, and some options run around-the-clock. Nevertheless, usage of public transportation in New Jersey is down at least 20%, and that number has been quite a bit higher during peak periods. Due to fear of infection, there’s some deterrence to opting for safer means of transportation while drinking. Travelers also have the option of taxis in addition to ride-hailing services, such as Lyft and Uber. However, the taxi workforce is down by a significant amount—as much as 75%. Lyft and Uber availability is also down—but by how much is not known—and more than 50% of regular ride-hailing passengers said that they were much less likely to use such a service during the pandemic.
DUI Ticket Blitzes
In New Jersey, the term ticket blitz is attributed to orchestrated traffic safety initiatives that run during various periods of the year, including between mid-August and Labor Day and one that begins the first week of December and continues through New Year’s Day. Recently, the campaign for these blitzes has been known as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” and they involve television, radio and internet ads in addition to billboards. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic cops have been using similar strategies more frequently—albeit with not as much media presence. These coordinated efforts not only result in arrests of drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs but also result in tickets for speeding, failure to wear a seat belt and texting while driving. These initiatives are multi-pronged and often involve:
- Ad campaigns
- DUI checkpoints
- Added patrols near hot spots
- Deterrence through increased police presence
- Coordination between state and local law enforcement
What Does a DUI Checkpoint Entail?
DUI checkpoints involve the use of one or more roadblocks to funnel traffic. There is usually at least one police offer directing traffic while another examines drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations. This initial phase is relatively brief. The police are looking for impaired drivers along with unlicensed drivers, expired tags and so on. Most drivers funneled through a checkpoint will be on their way in under a minute. If an officer suspects that you are impaired, he or she will ask you to pull over, turn off the vehicle and step out. You will then perform a field sobriety test. While you can refuse, New Jersey is an implied consent state. This means that giving consent is implied when you choose to become a licensed driver and operate a motor vehicle.
How Do DUI Checkpoints Differ During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many aspects of American life. That includes how law enforcement agencies in New Jersey conduct DUI checkpoints. Protocols have been updated to allow for as little contact as possible during all stages of the process. Police officers have been instructed to use face masks and gloves. They have hand sanitizer on hand in addition to masks that can be provided to citizens when needed. Social distancing is maintained as long as possible, including during the field sobriety test. The state has also updated the manner in which breathalyzers are used and handled to reduce the risk of either citizens or police offers getting infected.
Does Reduced Traffic Account for the Additional Resources?
In some cases, it may. After all, there is less traffic on the road, which means that traffic cops are dealing with fewer accidents and other traffic-related incidents. However, such coordinated efforts are usually made possible through additional manpower rather than through reallocation of necessary resources. Overtime for police officers is usually required. Police departments often have an annual budget for such purposes. Police departments can also receive federal, state and local grants to fund these efforts. This is certainly common with the nationwide Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, but it is not known if such funds have been distributed specifically for COVID-19-related impaired driving deterrence.
Local Representation for DUI Charges
Have you or a loved one been charged with a DWI or DUI? It’s important to seek legal representation, especially during these uncertain times. Whether this is your first offense or you are being charged with a second or subsequent charge, the office of Gregg Wisotsky in New Jersey would like to help you. DUI law is an area of focus for us, and we can provide you a Morristown criminal defense lawyer who will work diligently to protect your rights and minimize any penalties that you may face.
Our law firm provides initial consultations at no charge and without obligation. To schedule an appointment, call our Morris County office at (973) 898-0161 or contact us online. You’ll be happy to know that we follow all social distancing requirements while still providing strong legal representation.