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Police Stage License, DUI Checkpoints
Bright lights loom in the distance, floodlights set up in the middle of the roadway. Then come signs and traffic cones directing drivers to slow down and get into one lane. Shadowy forms of police officers appear, waving down traffic. No, it's not an accident. You've come upon a DUI and license checkpoint ... so hopefully you are not under the influence and can produce a valid driver's license.

Riverbank Police Services recently manned such checkpoints, one was on Jan. 29 on Oakdale Road near Morrill Road and another on Feb. 5 on Patterson Road just inside the city's western border at the canal.

The location on Patterson Road was calculated to pick up the heavy traffic coming into Riverbank on Highway 108 from McHenry Avenue, Modesto and Escalon, Sheriff's Deputy Jesus Sigala pointed out. The timing was Saturday night on the evening before Super Bowl Sunday and set to catch football fans starting alcoholic celebrations a little early.

Drivers didn't have to go through this DUI checkpoint, however. A quarter mile or so before the canal crossing, police had put a sign at the side of the road - it was a small one- warning drivers of the checkpoint ahead and allowing them to take a different route around it if they so wished. That is required by state law, officials said.

Once across the canal, however, and within city limits, there is a double yellow centerline and any driver attempting a u-turn to avoid the checkpoint would have a motorcycle officer in pursuit. There was one stationed there for that purpose.

Waving vehicles to a stop and leaning into the cab to inquire politely for a driver's license, the officers can smell alcohol pretty easily besides observing the driver's demeanor. Slurred speech and bloodshot eyes are a sure giveaway, they said.

If suspicious, an officer could take further steps like directing a driver to the side for further investigation. Some drivers were watching their vehicles being loaded onto tow trucks for a variety of infractions, with three to four tow trucks on scene.

While alcohol is the main offender at a DUI checkpoint, officers are also on the lookout for signs of driving impairment both from illegal drugs like marijuana and from prescription drugs.

Prescription drugs are becoming an increasing problem, said Sigala. Many drivers do not seem to realize that while the drugs are legal, they can cause drowsiness or delayed reactions and impair people's ability to drive enough to require they be taken off the road.

The other thing the officers were requiring was a valid driver's license, one that was up to date, not suspended and carried in the vehicle. The drivers caught under the influence or without a valid license at a checkpoint obviously are not pleased about it, Sigala said. They will lose their vehicle at least until it can be retrieved from the impound yard on the next business day. The police can hold it for up to 30 days.

If they are eventually convicted of DUI, they face up to several thousand dollars' worth of penalties in towing charges, court fines, DUI class fees and insurance hikes plus time and labor.

Drivers who are free of alcohol or other drugs and can produce a valid license are happy to see the officers doing their job, using tax money wisely and keeping the roads free of people who should not be driving, he said.

At the Jan. 29 checkpoint, the 10 officers at the scene screened 545 vehicles and drivers; conducted a field sobriety test on seven of them, but arrested none for DUI. Of the 545 vehicles stopped, five were towed. Four drivers had no license and the other had a suspended or revoked license.

At the Feb. 5 checkpoint, police screened 494 vehicles from which four drivers were required to do field sobriety tests. Eleven vehicles were towed. Six of the drivers had no license and five more had vehicles impounded for suspended or revoked licenses. There were no arrests for DUI.