Are DUI Sobriety Checkpoints Effective?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on April 10th, 2008

For many years now, MADD has focused much of its considerable manpower (over 600 chapters), resources (revenues of over $51 million a year) and political influence on the proliferation of DUI roadblocks (or, to use the politically correct phrase, “sobriety checkpoints”). To justify this invasion of our privacy, we have been repeatedly assured that “checkpoints” are extremely effective in reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities — and these assurances have been accompanied by statistics. Let’s take a closer look at these "statistics"….

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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  • Toolshed

    http://www.amazon.com/Playmobil-3906-Police-Checkpoint/dp/B0002YM16U/ref=pd_bbs_5?ie=UTF8&s=toys-and-games&qid=1205071638&sr=8-5

    “Pull over! The traffic police have blocked the road to all vehicles. Wearing realistic uniforms and printed emergency vests, they have set up a roadblock with 4 warning lights and 2 pylons. They are also equipped with a map, stop sign, and pistols.”

  • jim

    and maybe a mobile breath testing van

  • koivisto

    Mr. Taylor you have an excellent site and are right on with what you write about. If we as a country are so concerned with needless death, which I agree that DUI’s do cause, then why are we not fighting obesity in this country? Or needless wars? If one checks the stats on causes of death then it is easily found out what really needs to be addressed. The only answer I can see is that it is a money maker for the states, and that is sad. Please keep up the great work!