OCEAN CITY — A sobriety checkpoint in West Ocean City led to major traffic backups in Ocean City on Saturday, the busiest day of the offseason.
Shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday, a day of St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Maryland State Police (MSP) along with allied law enforcement agencies set up shop along Route 50 just west of the bridge. According to a MSP release, “The goal was to locate impaired drivers and to promote public awareness of the dangers of impaired driving.”
The checkpoint, which ended about 90 minutes after it began, resulted in 291 vehicles being checked and two drivers evaluated for impairment, according to MSP, which was joined by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, Natural Resources Police and Berlin Police Department as well as State Highway Administration handling traffic responsibilities. One driver was arrested for driving while impaired.
Many motorists and business owners on Saturday night were angered by the checkpoint’s location, which backed up traffic for miles in Ocean City. For example, traffic slowed around 32nd Street on Coastal Highway during the checkpoint. At various points, motorists were unable to move at all and one trip from downtown Ocean City to West Ocean City reportedly took over 45 minutes.
The intent of the checkpoint was to cause traffic congestion, but to avert a trend of drunk driving during the festive weekend.
“The St. Patrick’s Day weekend is widely celebrated in America as a celebration of Irish and Irish American Culture,” an MSP press release recapping the checkpoint wrote. “Celebrations include prominent displays of the color green, eating and drinking, religious observances, and numerous parades. As a result, there has been a noticeable increase of impaired driving incidents during this time.”
From Friday, March 14, through Monday, March 17, MSP troopers arrested 120 drunk drivers during sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols and regular road patrols throughout the state. These efforts were in direct response to the known increase in drinking and driving resulting from holiday celebrations, MSP reported.
Troopers at the Berlin barrack in Worcester County led the 22 State Police barracks with 17 DUI arrests, followed by the Golden Ring Barrack in Baltimore County with 13 arrests. The JFK Highway Barrack, where troopers patrol I-95 north of Baltimore and the Rockville Barrack in Montgomery County, totaled 11 arrests each.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) applauded law enforcement’s efforts over the weekend, pointing to statistics to illustrate the point. During 2012, 160 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Maryland, representing 32 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state. In addition to the extraordinary emotional burden for victims, drunk driving deaths are an unnecessary economic hardship for Maryland, costing the state and taxpayers over $848 million.
“Law enforcement plays a key role in keeping our roads safe. Sobriety checkpoints an excellent way to keep the would-be drunk driver from driving drunk,” said Lisa Spicknall, MADD Maryland Programs Manager.