The Cornell police department postponed its scheduled sobriety checkpoint on West Ave. Saturday night due to an untimely bout of nasty Ithaca weather. Flashes of lightning and wind advisory conditions caused officials to temporarily put a halt to the checkpoint, which was being conducted as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “You Drink & Drive. You Lose” campaign.
“The weather was not on our side last night,” Sergeant Charles Howard said. “Sobriety checkpoints are labor-intensive, and our officers [would have been] out there in the middle of the street.”
As the Coordinator of Traffic Enforcement Activities for the Cornell police department, Howard has worked to crack down on reckless driving by educating students on its dangers and consequences. The department purposely advertises the checkpoint beforehand, encouraging students to visit the Cornell University Police website to find out more information on its policies regarding Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).
“We have worked closely toward gearing stuff toward young people because the majority of people who drink and drive are under the age of 34,” Howard said.
Like previous sobriety checkpoints held on Cornell’s campus, this one would have consisted of police officers stopping drivers and testing them for blood alcohol levels. Officials scheduled the checkpoint for last Saturday night in anticipation of alcohol-related celebrations after the men’s playoff hockey game against Yale.
“We have been focusing on Cornell hockey games since January to keep the amount of drunk driving down,” Howard explained. “Hockey is the big sport at Cornell, and the temptation is there. We don’t want to stop people from celebrating, but [drunk driving] is a behavior that can’t be tolerated in our community.”
The department has been monitoring drunk driving more closely as a result of Cornell’s poor track record. Officers distribute informational flyers at sobriety checkpoints to increase students’ awareness of the problem.
“Last year we made 25 DWI arrests,” Howard said. “We make more underage drinking arrests than any department in the county, and we are not proud of that. There’s too much underage drinking going on.”
Several Cornell students have voiced their support of the checkpoints.
“I don’t drink because I don’t get any benefit from it. I feel that drinking causes me to lose things, such as the food that I ate the previous day,” Rachel Campbell ’05 said. “As a driver, I am very wary of people who drink and drive. I think the checkpoints are good, they make me feel safe. Maybe people will stop drinking and driving.”
According to Eliza Crane ’05, students are taking the checkpoints seriously. “I think that they are effective in curtailing drinking and driving because people have been aware that they are in place,” Eliza Crane ’05 said.
Saturday’s scheduled checkpoint has been postponed until sometime after spring break, according to Sgt. Howard. Police officers will not reveal the exact date until a few days prior to the checkpoint, but they have announced that they will begin an intensive anti-reckless driving campaign when students return from spring break.
“During the day, there are people running red lights and not stopping for pedestrians,” Howard said. “Last year six pedestrians were hit on the crosswalks. That is not acceptable.”
Cornellians should expect to see police officers on campus during the day carefully watching student drivers.
“We plan to use money from a state grant to implement a zero tolerance policy,” Howard said. “They are going to ticket any drivers who run red lights or who fail to stop for pedestrians.”
Police officers hope that the new policies will help make the Cornell campus safer for students.
“We feel we are part of the educational process,” Howard said. “If we give you enough information, then you should be smart enough to not be behind the wheel. Maybe that will deter some people.”
Archived article by Meghan Barr