Eight people were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving at a sobriety checkpoint in Laguna Beach over the weekend, marking the first time such roadblocks have been used in Orange County since a state Supreme Court decision upheld their constitutionality in October.
A Laguna Beach police spokesman said he considers the checkpoint successful despite the relatively small number of arrests out of 386 cars stopped during the five-hour roadblock targeting drivers leaving Laguna Beach.
"We had no expectations on numbers," Sgt. Ray Lardie said of the checkpoint in the 600 block of Laguna Canyon Road, where several fatal accidents have occurred in recent years. "It's how many (drunk drivers) we can locate."
Lardie conceded that some motorists could easily have evaded the checkpoint in the eastbound lanes of Laguna Canyon Road by taking another route out of town via Coast Highway. He said the Police Department does not have the manpower to staff checkpoints on both roads at once.
The roadblocks nonetheless have proven to be a successful deterrent to drunk drivers on the winding curves of Laguna Canyon Road, where many of the fatal accidents have involved drunk drivers traveling at excessive speed, Lardie said. He said checkpoints will continue on Saturday nights and other random days at varying times and locations during the Yuletide party season.
The checkpoint began about 10 p.m. Saturday and ended about 3 a.m. Sunday. During that time, Lardie said, 1,248 cars passed through the roadblock; 386 were stopped while officers checked for signs of intoxication, and 21 field sobriety exams were administered.
Besides the eight drunk driving arrests, two other people were taken into custody on outstanding traffic warrants. One other driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence elsewhere in Laguna Beach, police said.
Motorists stopped in Laguna Canyon registered no complaints about delays, Lardie said. "We tried to keep the procedure as quick as possible: just look inside the car and check the driver for obvious signs of intoxication," Lardie said. "We encountered no problems."
All checkpoints in the state, including Laguna Beach's "Saturday Night Alive" program, were halted last year when their legality was challenged. But the state Supreme Court ruled in October that the roadblocks do not violate the constitutional rights of motorists.
The California Highway Patrol and police departments in Anaheim, Brea and Los Angeles have announced plans to resume checkpoints during the holidays.