Police sirens

We applaud state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf for acting swiftly to bring back DUI checkpoints throughout Pennsylvania.

Alcohol is involved in more than 30% of all traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania, according to PennDOT. 

To deter drunken driving, authorities often use the checkpoints, where officers, often from multiple jurisdictions, evaluate stopped drivers for signs of impairment. 

But the checkpoint system hit a snag in May, when a ruling by the state Supreme Court threw out a DUI conviction.

The case involved a 2013 incident in Allegheny County in which Molly Hlubin was stopped at a checkpoint in Robinson Township. 

Court documents say Hlubin was questioned by an officer from nearby Moon Township before being charged by a Robinson Township officer. 

As our John Finnerty reported, Hlubin’s attorneys argued that she shouldn’t have been arrested because the officer who first questioned her was working at the checkpoint without the appropriate legal agreements between the municipalities that employed the police involved in the checkpoint.

The court agreed, with Justice Christine Donohue saying any evidence obtained after the Moon Township officer questioned the driver should be suppressed.

But House Bill 1614, signed into law last week by Wolf, allows Pennsylvania police to set up multi-department efforts, such as DUI checkpoints, without action by the local governments, but rather with agreements between the police chiefs. 

According to Dave Andrascik, state program director for Drug Recognition Expert training for the PA DUI Association, prior to the new law, police would have been required to get every municipality involved to pass formal agreements indicating that their officers could participate.

The new law also applies to other multi-department efforts, such as those that target drug-dealers and human trafficking, said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, who introduced the bill.

“The ability of small and mid-sized police departments to share resources is of vital importance to protecting and serving the citizens of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Chambersburg police Chief Ron Camacho said in a statement. “In today’s day and age of expensive technology and limited manpower, police departments have to have a mechanism to share both.”

DUI checkpoints have proven to be effective. In 2002, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of 11 studies found that checkpoints reduced alcohol-related fatal, injury and property damage crashes each by about 20%.

Thanks to speedy action in Harrisburg, police are now better equipped to utilize a system that can help save lives and discourage drunken driving.