DWI checkpoints: NJ municipalities don’t want you to know this (Opinion)
Sobriety checkpoint season is upon us, which means it might not be just department stores and targeted ads trying to reach into your pockets with the holidays approaching.
There is typically a sharp uptick in parties and celebrations of all kinds taking place throughout NJ this time of year. And with that in mind, over 100 NJ police departments have received grants to crack down on intoxicated driving from now until Jan. 1.
While there's no doubt an increased focus on impaired driving is a positive, this likely means we will see a rise in DWI checkpoints throughout the state.
If you are behind the wheel while sober and you realize you're approaching a sobriety checkpoint, you likely have nothing to worry about. But sometimes you are pressed for time, or you don't want to be bothered.
There are also people—myself included—who have gone through checkpoints sober as a judge and still received a summons for an unrelated offense.
For me it happened twice. Once was for having a tail light out. The other was for having an expired registration. The funny thing about the latter is that my registration expired at midnight, just fifteen minutes prior to going through the checkpoint. Since I was so close to home, I likely would have made it just under the wire had I not had to go through the checkpoint. But I digress.
Jeff Deminski goes into more detail here about how these initiatives can often turn into a money grab.
The point is some police departments, especially those in smaller towns, may look for reasons to take your money for a reason unrelated to intoxication if they realize they aren't going to get you on a drunk driving offense.
So with that in mind, you should know that it is perfectly legal in NJ to turn off from a roadway to avoid an approaching checkpoint. It must be in legal fashion, however.
According to legal information website NJDWIHQ.com,
Drivers might not realize that there is no legal requirement to stay on a road in which there is a checkpoint. You are perfectly allowed to turn off – in a legal fashion – to avoid it. If you do something illegal to avoid the checkpoint and the officer sees you, you will be stopped. Even if you’re not committing a DWI, an illegal maneuver such as a U-turn will lead to a traffic ticket.
As for what to look for, every checkpoint is different. Most towns have their own system and usual locations. But typically if you are driving around late at night and you start noticing cones on the road on both sides of you but no sign of construction, there's a chance you're driving headfirst towards a checkpoint.
While navigation apps like Waze don't specifically call out approaching checkpoints, they do allow users to submit alerts regarding "police activity" on your route.
One of the requirements to have a sobriety checkpoint is the municipality must publicize the upcoming checkpoint. Sometimes that publicity could be by way of a tweet or social media post by the police department.
Other times you may see articles about certain checkpoints. But that only happens if news departments like our own receive enough notice.
Don't drive impaired. But don't let small-town municipalities reach into your pockets the time of year you're likely penny-pinching the most.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer, and host Joe Votruba. Any opinions expressed are his own.