Sober driving vehicle checkpoints

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Sober driving checkpoints involve brief motorist delays during which officers look for signs of alcohol or drug impairment and for valid license, current vehicle registration and insurance. Because of their deterrent effect on driving after the use of intoxicating substances, these checkpoints are used as a tool to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by alcohol or drug involved crashes. This tool became common in the United States in the 1980s, and they are authorized in 38 States and the District of Columbia. Other countries that use DUI checkpoints to deter and catch intoxicated drivers include Canada and Australia. Concerns that police would be making traffic stops without probable cause, thereby violating a person’s due process rights, let to a test of the the constitutionality of this method. In Supreme Court case Michigan v. Sitz, it was ruled that that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional because the small inconvenience that drivers face is overwhelmed by a strong state interest in saving lives and preventing injuries.[1] A 2010 study by the University of Minnesota's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety showed 82 percent approval for sobriety checkpoints.[2] Other studies have found 90 percent approval ratings for sobriety checkpoints even after checkpoints have already been implemented in the area.



Conceptual Example

Many jurisdictions in the US are aware of the great dangers created by intoxicated drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol impaired driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States in 2014. If a particular jurisdiction wishes to combat intoxicated driving, sobriety checkpoints can be stationed along different roads. The primary results in this case would be a reduction in intoxicated drivers on that jurisdiction's roads due to fear and discouragement surrounding this dangerous activity as well as sanctions for those who do choose to drive under the influence.

Specific Example

In California, instances of driving under the influence of alcohol led to 867 deaths and more than 23,000 serious injuries in 2013. In August 2016, the Oakland Police Department Traffic Operations Section conducted a DUI/Driver’s License checkpoint between the hours of 7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.[3] The location of the checkpoint was undisclosed, but the release stated that it was within city limits. Funding for this checkpoint was provided to the Oakland Police Department by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. Checkpoints may conflict with constitutional protections related to searching persons or their property without appropriate cause. For example, there is a US argument that this kind of traffic stop violates Fourth Amendment protections that has been used against sober driving vehicle checkpoints.
  2. Sober driving vehicle checkpoints require law enforcement personnel resources that may be needed elsewhere. This may mean that other safety and crime-reduction efforts are deprioritized in the interest of providing checkpoints. Additionally, not all officers have received training in detecting impaired drivers, SFST [Standardized Field Sobriety Test], and checkpoint operational procedures, a process that requires the use of additional law enforcement time and resources.
  3. Funding for these programs is not always readily available, and if it is it may be removed from other safety and crime-reduction programs.
  4. Traffic backups created by the slow nature of checkpoints can cause frustration among drivers and residents and business owners who border selected roads. Additionally, the congestion created during these backups can have adverse effects on the environment, including vehicle emissions.
  5. Intoxicated drivers who encounter the checkpoint may make reckless driving decisions when trying to avoid officers and find alternate routes.
Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Have a significant number of area deaths and injuries been caused by instances of driving while intoxicated?
  2. Are there trained officers in the jurisdiction in question who can be stationed at these checkpoints?
  3. Do instances of driving while intoxicated tend to correspond to specific geographic areas or routes that can be served with a checkpoint?
  4. Do instances of driving while intoxicated tend to correspond to specific times of day, times of the year, or holidays during which a checkpoint can be installed?
  5. Does the locality have a temporary holding facility with capacity to hold offenders once arrested or other means for detaining apprehended intoxicated drivers?


Assuming that a jurisdiction has decided to adopt the policy, the following questions will need to be answered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. How much will this policy cost a particular jurisdiction to implement?
    1. Where will additional funding needed to implement this policy come from?
      1. Grants that can be applied for to finance this policy.
  2. Are there particular roads or time periods that will allow for safe and smooth checkpoint operations?
    1. This can be determined by examining which parts of a jurisdiction are usually traveled by drunk drivers and when.
    2. It is helpful to keep in mind whether certain locations cause additional dangers or inconveniences to residents or businesses.
  3. How will these checkpoints be publicized prior to their implementation?
    1. It is possible for statements be released within a particular time frame of the actual checkpoint. Modern communications technology can facilitate the spread of this announcement and prevent residents from driving while intoxicated.
  4. If drivers are arrested, what will be the next steps for law enforcement?
    1. Where will apprehended drivers go?
      1. Temporary holding facilities and a locality's jail have been used as detention centers for intoxicated drivers.
    2. What will be done with the cars of apprehended drivers?
      1. Repeat offenders often have their vehicles impounded.
    3. What will be done with other passengers of the car?
      1. In some places, for example, minors can be charged with possession, and adult passengers can be searched if another arrest has already been made.
  5. What will DWI and DUI penalties include?
    1. All states have some type of ignition interlock law, in which judges require all or some convicted drunk drivers to install interlocks in their cars to analyze their breath and disable the engine if alcohol is detected. 42 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have administrative license suspension (ALS) on the first offense. ALS allows law enforcement to confiscate a driver's license for a period of time if he fails a chemical test. Most of these states allow limited driving privileges (such as to/from work).[4]







  1. Advocates - Sober Driving. Assumption: Citizens in places where these checkpoints are used will be less likely to drive when they are not sober. The goal of these checkpoints is to eventually stop catching people who are driving under the influence because enough people are concerned about the legal ramifications that they find other, safer means of transportation. [44]
  2. Advocates - Bicycle Safety. Assumption: Bicyclists will be subject to fewer safety risks with fewer intoxicated drivers sharing the roads.
  3. Advocates - Pedestrian Safety. Assumption: Pedestrians will be subject to fewer safety risks with fewer intoxicated drivers sharing the roads. [45]
  4. Constituent Groups - Parents and Parent Associations. Assumption: Because young males at BACs as low as .02 to .05 are nearly five times more likely to be involved in a motor-vehicle crash, and young women at comparable alcohol levels are almost three times as likely as sober drivers to be involved in a crash, many parent groups like MADD are proponents of sober driving vehicle checkpoints. [46]
  5. Government Agencies - Transportation. Assumption: This type of policy can reduce accident rates.
  6. Labor Unions - Taxi Drivers. Assumption: This type of policy can encourage people, perhaps especially those who have consumed alcohol, to use taxi services as a means of transportation.



  1. Advocates - Privacy. Assumption: Checking a driver's vehicle is an invasion of that person's right to privacy. A variety of court cases have been based on this idea, with the defendant arguing for his or her privacy. [47]
  2. Advocates - Civil Liberties. Assumption: Vehicle checkpoints are a violation of an individual's civil liberties. Protesters invested in this cause are known to have alerted drivers of nearby checkpoints. INSERT. [48]
  3. Constituent Groups - Local Businesses. Assumption: Restaurants, bars, and other businesses that profit largely from the sale of alcohol [49]
  4. Constituent Groups - Commuters. Assumption: Congestion caused by checkpoints can potentially upset groups who drive to and from work during times of checkpoints.




  1. Unsteady on Its Feet: Sobriety Checkpoint Reasonableness. Focuses on legal and social discourse surrounding the sobriety checkpoint. [5]
  2. Texas A&M University. Sobriety Checkpoints. Provides an overview of research results related to the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints. [6]
  3. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Sobriety checkpoints reduce crash deaths on Tennessee roads. 1999. Highlights the idea that reasonable cost shows checkpoint programs can be conducted with existing resources. [7]
  4. Randy W. Elder et al. Effectiveness of Sobriety Checkpoints for Reducing Alcohol-Involved Crashes. 2002. Examines the effectiveness of random breath testing (RBT) checkpoints, at which all drivers stopped are given breath tests for blood alcohol levels, and selective breath testing (SBT) checkpoints, at which police must have reason to suspect the driver has been drinking before demanding a breath test. [8]
  5. Fell JC1, Lacey JH, Voas RB. Sobriety checkpoints: evidence of effectiveness is strong, but use is limited. 2004. Discusses each logistical checkpoint problems and suggests a method for local communities to implement checkpoints without depending on state or federal funds. [


  1. The Center for Disease Control- Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety. Provides facts regarding the history, use, effectiveness, costs, and more for checkpoint programs. [9]
  2. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Provides safety facts related to alcohol-impaired driving. [[10]] [[11]]
  3. Governors Highway Safety Association. Offers background information regarding drunk driving laws across the United States. [12]
  4. State of Colorado. Source for more background on the use of sobriety checkpoints for impaired driving enforcement. [13]
  5. [[1]]
  44. [[2]]
  45. [[3]]
  46. [[4]]
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