DUI Checkpoints - What's the Point?
By: Gerri Elder
Everyone hates to run into a DUI sobriety checkpoint when they are out driving. For the people who have had nothing to drink they are an annoying delay and for the people who have been drinking they can be more than a minor inconvenience and could result in a DUI arrest.
What generally happens is that the police set up a roadblock and stop each car or at least every few cars and conduct random sobriety checks on the drivers. They look for cues that the driver may be intoxicated and where the law permits, they may give each driver a portable breath test on the spot before allowing them to pass through the checkpoint.
When a portable breath test for every driver may be unlawful or impractical, drivers are put through a more complicated screening process. In the event that an officer smells alcohol on the driver's breath or otherwise believes that the driver may be impaired, the driver may be ordered out of their vehicle and asked to complete some field sobriety tests. If the driver fails the field sobriety test, at that point they may be taken in for a breath test to determine their blood alcohol content.
There have been arguments that DUI sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional and several states have outlawed them. However, in 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court found that DUI roadblocks are constitutionally permissible and the minor intrusion on drivers is worth it to keep drunk drivers off the road. So in this case, it seems that the Fourth Amendment becomes slightly flexible, and that is an issue of great debate.
However, whether legal or unconstitutional, questions remain about the effectiveness of the DUI checkpoints that are conducted. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted studies to determine just how effective the DUI roadblocks are in the United States and have found that officers on regular patrol duty take three times more drunk drivers off the roads than those at DUI checkpoints.
Other studies have been done and have concluded that the 11 states that do not have DUI sobriety checkpoints actually have fewer alcohol related fatalities than those states that use their police resources to conduct the DUI roadblocks. These statistics certainly give further indication that police on regular patrol duty have a better chance of keeping drunk drivers off the road that police officers who conduct DUI checkpoints.
One reason that DUI checkpoints may not be very effective is that motorists tend to know where they are and avoid them. Given that prior notice is given and in some areas it is even published in the local newspapers when and where the DUI checkpoints will be, certainly all drivers and especially those who have been drinking, are given fair warning as to which roads to avoid when the DUI roadblocks are in effect.
Since DUI checkpoints use a lot of police resources, there is concern about using these valuable resources on methods that may be ineffective. Police officials still claim that DUI roadblocks are helpful because they send a message that reminds people that drunk driving will not be tolerated. In some areas, pamphlets are handed out at the checkpoints to warn drivers of the dangers of drinking and driving and some say that this may also serve as a reminder and deterrent against drinking and driving.