Do Sobriety Checkpoints Really Work?


In York County, Pa., Ted Czech of the York Daily Record reports on the local version of a battle playing out in law enforcement agencies across the country: What is the most effective way to intercept drunk drivers during "high risk" periods, such as the 4th of July Weekend?

Wayne Harper, director of the York County Center for Traffic Safety, points to a recent press release issued by the American Beverage Institute for a good summation of one side of the argument. According to the ABI, DUI checkpoints are ineffective and costly.

ABI stated in a release: "[DUI checkpoints] target moderate drinkers instead of the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem – hard core alcohol abusers."

According to Harper, the ABI is out of its league.

"It’s very unfortunate that an organization like this, that knows very little about traffic safety, feels a need to comment on it," said Harper to the press. "What if I sent out a news release [declaring that] bars should stop serving alcohol after 11 o’clock?"

George Geisler, director of the Pennsylvania DUI Association’s eastern office, points out that DUI checkpoints are just one method of DUI enforcement. The other three common methods are roving police patrols, mobile awareness patrols (which are essentially scarecrows, giving the appearance of a sobriety checkpoint) and a program that places police officers close to liquor stores to monitor who is buying what and for whom.

The ABI cites California statistics in its press release, stating that in 2008, one million vehicles passed through checkpoints and only one third of 1% of drivers were arrested for driving under the influence.

Geisler says that in Pennsylvania, 220,000 drivers passed through DUI checkpoints during the same time period, and 1% of drivers were charged with DUI, and another 2.5% of drivers received a citation of some other type.

The problem with the ABI position, according to Geisler, is that it examines the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints only from the perspective of alcohol consumption. Geisler says he has arrested numerous violators at these checkpoints for driving under the influence of a number of nonalcoholic substances, including prescription drugs.

Wayne Harper says that sobriety checkpoints are intended to cast a wide net over potential violators. In his opinion, roving patrols do not generate nearly as many arrests and citations. He believes that the effectiveness of the DUI checkpoint as a deterrent should be considered when calculating its value.

"It causes people to be aware of the fact that law enforcement is out there and gives them the fear of arrest," Geisler says. They sometimes encourage individuals to make different choices. He believes that news of police setting up sobriety checkpoints – highly visible and often mentioned on news broadcasts, has an impact at the bar scene.

"Compare that to a roving patrol – does anybody really know we’re out there? Is it a deterrent? No."

Harper provides his final analysis of checkpoint effectiveness with an anecdote. On one occasion, as he set up a checkpoint with a group of officers, a car pulled over and a man got out of his car and approached the officers. "All right, you got me."

Source: York Daily Record

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