But Roadblocks Work, Right?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 24th, 2006

In my post yesterday concerning seatbelt roadblocks, I mentioned the Supreme Court's approval of DUI roadblocks on the grounds that the Fourth Amendment was outweighed by the Government's interest in reducing the "slaughter on our highways".

I've received a number of replies saying, essentially, "Well, at least they are saving lives, right?".

Wrong.

Question: If DUI roadblocks are so effective, why have the Government's own "alcohol-related fatality" figures remained essentially unchanged for the past ten years — since shortly after the Court gave law enforcement the go-ahead? When the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan v. Sitz decided to ignore the Constitution, it was reversing a Michigan Supreme Court decision which found that DUI roadblocks were a Fourth Amendment violation. As the dissenting justices in the Sitz decision noted, the Michigan decision was based upon studies which concluded that

…the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative. Indeed, the record in this case makes clear that a decision holding these suspicionless seizures unconstitutional would not impede the law enforcement community's remarkable progress in reducing the death toll on our highways.

Ironically, then, that "remarkable progress" appears to have actually come to a halt shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of roadblocks.

(Note: When the Sitz case was sent back to Michigan, that state's Supreme Court again reversed the conviction, this time on the grounds that DUI roadblocks violated the state constitution. As of today, eleven states protect their citizens from roadblocks.)

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