Are DUI Roadblocks Effective?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on January 9th, 2008

I've railed in the past about the unconstitutionality of DUI roadblacks, aka "sobriety checkpoints", as well as their ineffectiveness.  Increasingly, they are being used as revenue generators and illegal subterfuges to stop innocent citizens for unrelated matters.  

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that the interests of the government in ensuring safety on the highways outweighs the clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, 11 states today ban DUI roadblocks by relying upon their own state constitutions to protect their citizens.  However, the governor of one of those states, Christine Gregoire, is now calling on the legislature to abandon that protection.


Gregoire Calls for Sobriety Checkpoints

Olympia, WA.  Jan. 8  –  Gov. Christine Gregoire wants the state Legislature to authorize police to set up sobriety spot checks, a practice unseen in Washington since the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1988…

The national and Pacific Northwest MADD organizations are targeting sobriety checkpoints and stricter laws for ignition interlocks as legislative priorities this year.

"Sobriety checkpoints work. The Centers for Disease Control says that in states where they have sobriety checkpoints, impaired driving crashes are usually 20 percent less than in states where they don't," said Judy Eakin, executive director of MADD's Northwest region.


As I've indicated in previous posts (e.g., "Lies, Damned Lies and MADD Statistics"), MADD is very fond of playing games with numbers.  Let's take a closer look at the statistics connecting roadblocks to reductions of accidents….

According to MADD's own website, 40 states have checkpoints and 10 do not. Well, it would be interesting to compare the states with the highest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities with the list of states not using checkpoints: If MADD is correct, the states with the highest fatality rates will be the no-roadblock states. Fortunately, another section of MADD’s website provides such statistics for each of the states. The 5 states with the highest alcohol-related fatality rates:

Hawaii
Nevada
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina

According to MADD, all 5 states should be non-checkpoint states. In fact, however, 4 of these states use checkpoints; only Rhode Island does not. Well, what about the 5 states with the lowest fatality percentages? They are:

Georgia
Kentucky
Indiana
Iowa
New York

If MADD is correct about the effectiveness of checkpoints, these should all be checkpoint states. But as with the previous list, only 4 of the states permit the use of sobriety checkpoints; Iowa does not. As with the previous list, the percentage is what one would expect from pure random incidence: 20% of the states (10 of 50) do not have checkpoints and 20% of the states on each list (1 of 5) do not use checkpoints. There appears to be no correlation between fatality rates and the use of checkpoints.

Let’s take a look at another set of statistics: the effect of the proliferation of checkpoints on the national rate of alcohol-related fatalities. If checkpoints are effective, we would expect to find that alcohol-related fatalities will have declined since their widespread acceptance in recent years .

Again, the statistics do not support this. To use MADD's own numbers: Since 1982, the number of fatalities nationwide from alcohol-related crashes has declined every year until about 1993, when it dropped to 17,908. Perhaps coincidentally, this was the year after the United States Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints were not unconstitutional. In the 10 years since then, sobriety checkpoints have gained widespead acceptance — but the number of fatalities have levelled off, vacilating between 17,908 and 17,013. Far from supporting MADD’s position, one could even argue that this proves sobriety checkpoints have actually halted the steady decline in alcohol-related deaths. This would probably be incorrect — but indicative of how statistics can be used to serve a desired objective.

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