DUI Roadblocks: Is the Public Finally Starting to Get It?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on December 12th, 2008

For years, MADD has loudly and widely extolled the virtues of "sobriety checkpoints" – despite clear evidence to the contrary.   See, e.g., my posts Do Roadblocks Work?, Do Roadblocks Work? (Part II), and DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective Because They’re Ineffective.   Now, finally, there may be a glimmer of light out there.  Consider the following guest OpEd published yesterday in Louisiana:


Roadblocks Not Best Way to Curtail Drunk Driving

Thanksgiving kicked off the holiday season and its accompanying festivities. Families and friends will get together and chances are high that most adults will celebrate with a beverage or two. Local governments will be taking some extra precautions to keep our roads safe.

These heightened traffic safety programs, unfortunately, fall short of expectations year after year. Alcohol-related fatalities have been reduced by over 30 percent since 1982 — no thanks to sobriety checkpoints, one of the most popular traffic programs in the last decade (during which fatality numbers have completely leveled off). It is a policy which all but 11 states still cling to despite its obvious reliance on emotion instead of effectiveness.

These roadblocks will be among the many long lines that Louisianians will find themselves waiting in during the coming weeks of the holiday season. Still buried among the news stories about holiday shopping and the economy, plenty of articles will appear in local newspapers under headlines like: "No Drunk Drivers Caught At Sobriety Checkpoint." Such headlines appeared in newspapers across the country last holiday season. Countless counties also stopped hundreds of vehicles and made only one or two arrests. Since these checkpoints are highly visible by design and publicized in advance, it’s almost surprising that they manage to make any arrests at all. How can placing a group of officers at a single location and waiting for drunk drivers to come to them be the best approach to traffic safety improvement? The allegiance to these programs by so many state governments can’t be explained by a lack of better options. Roving police patrols or saturation patrols are clearly more effective. They arrest up to 10 times as many drunk drivers as checkpoints by patrolling the highways and looking for dangerous drivers…

Policymakers had good reason to give these checkpoint programs a chance. But the reality is that checkpoints aren’t further shrinking the much-diminished drunk driving problem. Why should we funnel limited resources away from measures that are proven to achieve the same goal more effectively? With a dozen or more officers, special equipment and printed materials, roadblocks cost taxpayers a whopping average of around $8,000 each. A typical saturation patrol with two officers runs about $300. Proponents are going to be working harder to justify the lack of return on these substantial investments of taxpayer money. But try not to be distracted by their emotional appeals. Checkpoint advocates, led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have a lot more in mind for these roadblocks than traffic safety.

MADD defends checkpoint programs so aggressively because it is dedicated to minimizing alcohol consumption, not simply ensuring it is consumed responsibly. This is why the group has publicly advocated putting ignition interlocks (in-car breathalyzers) in every car as a safety feature, like seat belts. Over the next several weeks, MADD’s campaigns will be dedicated to making sure that Americans feel sufficiently guilty about consuming any spiked eggnog whatsoever prior to driving.

No one is against taking extra steps to make the roads safer during the holidays. But there is little evidence to suggest that checkpoints are the smartest way to do that. Now more than ever, it is important to make sure our resources are being spent effectively. Be safe on the roads this holiday season as always. But remember that the coming weeks are especially appropriate for reexamining our most misguided alcohol policies.


Facts have an irritating way of eventually rising to the surface.

 

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