This year, about 20 Hall County sheriff’s deputies descended on Chestnut Street, a narrow blacktop between the Pilgrims Pride poultry plant and the Featherbone Center, checking each motorist who passed through for valid licenses, insurance and any infractions that might warrant an order for them to pull into an adjacent parking lot.
By 9:30 p.m., they had one person arrested for DUI and several jailed for driving on suspended or no licenses. But it was early, and most activity on New Year’s happens after midnight.
Still, some folks were caught unawares.
"We’ve been getting a jump on people who think they’re going to scoot by and head to their parties," said Sgt. David Sullivan, who estimated one in every seven drivers stopped had some infraction, from seat belt violations to no licenses. "We’ve seen a lot of people dressed up like they’re headed somewhere."
On White Sulphur Road, a dozen Gainesville police officers were setting up their own road check in what is typically a high-visibility night for law enforcement.
Gainesville police Sgt. Dean Staples said the road check would last a few hours before officers went out on "concentrated patrols," looking for signs of impaired drivers on the road. Hall sheriff’s officials were following the same strategy.
"The concept is as much education as it is enforcement," Hall County sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland said. "Everybody going through here tonight will know that we’re out and will designate a driver. If you only arrest one person for DUI and prevent 20 people from drinking and driving, you’ve had a very successful night."
Wrecker driver Chip Patterson was one of the busiest men at the road block. Patterson predicted he would load as many 20 cars onto his flatbed before the night was over, most between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.
"We hope people have got sense enough not to drink and drive," Patterson said. "But if they’re out here, they don’t need to be."