The Problem with DUI Checkpoints

The CDC estimates that 29 persons die each day due to car crashes by drunk drivers and the annual costs of these fatalities amount to $44 billion. Based on these figures, the government is ramping up measures to prevent drunk driving. One of these measures is the use of DUI checkpoints to measure blood alcohol content.

DUI checkpoints are traffic roadblocks erected by the police near highways or busy intersections aimed at catching drunk drivers in the late hours of the night or during special holidays like Memorial Day weekend. Putting this noble intention aside, having additional sobriety checkpoints is not a foolproof idea. Many issues are arising from this measure, as discussed extensively below.

  1.     Drivers are more likely to get other citations at DUI checkpoints

Statistics indicate that sobriety checkpoints are not sufficient in catching intoxicated drivers and motorists are more likely than not to get charged for other infringements. Data obtained from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute indicate that over 91,278 vehicles passed through sobriety checkpoints between 2015 and 2018 but only 1% were charged with drunk driving. The most common violations are speeding, texting while driving, misusing lanes, among others. This study in Indiana proves that checkpoints don’t always deliver on their intended purpose so drunk drivers will still go undetected, perhaps going out of their way to avoid officers.

  1.     Checkpoints cause traffic jams, and culprits can escape

Setting up a roadblock on a busy road inevitably leads to traffic jams, and this can frustrate drivers whose patience is low, and road rage is high. More so, these checkpoints take up resources that could be deployed elsewhere, achieving better results. If the traffic backs up for too long, people can use apps to point them to other roads where traffic is flowing freely. Aside from friends texting each other to warn about checkpoints, GPS and iPhone applications have these alerts too.

Therefore, potentially impaired drivers will stay away from routes where law enforcement has set up shop, thus rendering checkpoints a frivolous affair. Some could say, then, such efforts are counterproductive not to mention prohibitive draining resources that are already strained.

  1.    DUI saturation patrol is a more superior approach

Sobriety checkpoints have many misgivings, so the government needs to improve how this approach is implemented or focus on the more viable DUI saturation patrol. These patrols comprise of officers who are specially trained to detect persons who are driving while intoxicated. Patrol officers have an impressive success rate of apprehending hardcore alcohol-drunk motorists who usually elude checkpoints.

These additional officers are deployed to strategically-chosen roadways during select times to observe certain behaviors that are indicative of impairment. For example, they identify drivers following too closely, deviating from lanes, or aggressive motorists. Statistically speaking, these saturation patrols are more effective in apprehending drunk drivers than merely setting up DUI checkpoints operated by regular police officers. Saturation patrols are favored by most police departments for their high success rate, minimal staff requirements, and the relative simplicity of these operations.

A report by the American Beverage Institute derives checkpoints can cost more than $10,000 per station as compared to $300 for every roving patrol. More so, these qualified patrols apprehend motorists committing other crimes that are equally or more dangerous such as texting while driving.

  1.     Checkpoints infringe on people’s civil rights

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, it is “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This right should not be violated unless a warrant is issued based on a probable cause which is supported by affirmation.

Randomly pulling over motorists without justifiable cause is a warrantless search that infringes upon their Constitutional rights. Nevertheless, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state interests in controlling incidences of impaired driving outweigh the minor infringement on a driver’s constitutional liberties. Checkpoints, therefore, are free to operate provided they meet specific legal requirements set by their jurisdictions.

The director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation – Robert Poole – surmises there is a need for a high burden of proof before pulling over people. He equates this approach to an illegal search and seizure which violates civil liberties. For instance, someone who is stopped as a DUI suspect may end up being charged for ferrying contraband, a crime they would have gotten away with if the police didn’t stop them.

In the above example on Skokie in Illinois, the low DUI arrests make one question the validity of imposing drivers to stop while officers are not keenly looking for drunk drivers. The chase to meet annual citation quotas has paved the way for officers to pull over motorists wantonly and this violates their civil rights. A Vista DUI Attorney can defend any case where clients were victims of aggressive policing.

  1.     DUI checkpoints are presumptuous of safety

Law enforcement needs to have probable cause to stop a motorist such as running a red light, swerving across lanes, missing number plates, over speeding, and so on. This measure is presumptuous of road safety outside these special events and holidays as drunk drivers can contravene traffic rules at any time like an ordinary weeknight. Drunk drivers, especially those battling addiction, could get behind the wheel at any time of day and night which is just as dangerous.

  1.     Sobriety checkpoints are a money-driven strategy

Law enforcement agencies haul in reasonable sums of money when they apprehend drivers without licenses. These people are required to pay impound fees for about 30 – 60 days, and this translates to thousands of dollars. Moreover, these efforts mean officers work overtime, so federal and state governments and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have to pay these extra wages. MADD was formulated in California in 1980, and it now has a presence in every state and every province in Canada, which means law enforcement agencies have their overtime covered.

UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program in collaboration with California Watch derived that vehicles impounded at checkpoints in 2009 hauled in $40 million in towing charges and fines. Officers received $30 million for overtime conducting crackdowns on impaired drivers, an initiative sponsored by the California Office of Traffic Safety and NHTSA. Each year, the national government allocates $100 million to the California Office of Traffic Safety to encourage responsible driving, thereby curbing road traffic fatalities. Impaired driving crackdowns like setting up sobriety checkpoints take up at least $30 million of this fund, and as per recent data, the LAPD spent $16,200 on overtime wages at every stop.

Looking at these figures, it is apparent checkpoints have a significant overtime incentive, and state data shows 90% of expenses at every checkpoint go towards extra wages. Police departments deploy roughly eighteen officers per sobriety checkpoint while others like Moreno Valley Police Department go overboard with 38 officers. This deployment happens in spite of guidelines provided by the federal traffic safety agency, which says six officers per checkpoint are enough.

Taxpayers bear the brunt of these measures and the National Motorists Association questions if incentive pay leads officers to enforce the law above what is necessary. The Chicago Tribune deduced the police are under constant pressure to hit quotas each year, so these funds keep coming. In 2105 alone, Skokie police hit their arrest quotas and were granted $853,000, which mainly went to paying overtime at roadside DUI checkpoints. Across Illinois, sobriety patrol officers issued 270,000 citations but 93% of them were for less severe charges than impaired driving.

Looking at the overstuffing measures unabashedly aimed at helping officers earn overtime pay, Sheriff’s Deputy Kristy Drilling apprehended over 100 impaired motorists in 2015 alone. This exceptional performance won Ms Drilling the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Award for three third time consecutively. She noted the most common signs of intoxicated drivers are alternating speeds from fast to slow repeatedly, weaving back and forth from lanes, driving sans headlights, etc.

  1.     Sobriety checkpoints promote racial profiling

Officers routinely patrol within or in proximity to Hispanic neighborhoods for the sole purpose of seizing vehicles or finding prospective DUI suspects. If you are victimized in this way, contact a Vista DUI Attorney for legal counsel. Reports indicate in neighborhoods like South Gate, which has a 92% Hispanic population, the police confiscate cars at three times the rate of areas with minority populations. Impounding thousands of automobiles cars at DUI checkpoints just because their owners didn’t have licenses goes against a 2005 federal appellate court ruling preventing officers from seizing vehicles in this manner.

In sum, reducing the high death toll on American roads and highways requires stringent measures at federal, state, and local levels. There have been successful measures in the past, such as raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 back in 1980, a move lauded by the National Institutes of Health. Nonetheless, setting up checkpoints is not delivering on its promise to remove impaired drivers as this aim is overtaken by self-interests like earning overtime pay. DUI saturation patrol remains the more superior approach of keeping roads safe as seen with Deputy Kristy Drilling in San Diego and her colleagues.