Category Archives: DUI Law

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

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.


Another “Successful” DUI Roadblock: 3000 Drivers Stopped, 0 DUIs

I’ve railed long and hard in past posts about the unconstitutionality of DUI roadblocks ("sobriety checkpoints") — as well as about their ineffectiveness and growing abuse.  See, e.g., Do Roadblocks Work?, Do Roadblocks Work? (Part II), DUI Logic: Roadblocks Effective Because They’re Ineffective, Police Using DUI Roadblocks Illegally, Purpose of DUI Roadblocks: "Shock and Awe" and DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit

Just another recent example here in California:

DUI Checkpoint Finds Many Unlicensed Drivers, But No Drunks

Bakersfield, CA –  Bakersfield police impounded 84 vehicles at a DUI checkpoint Friday night in the 4600 block of Stockdale Highway. The Traffic Enforcement Detail says the event is an effort to reduce the number of people killed each year in DUI related collisions, as well as insuring motorists on city streets are in possession of a valid driver’s license.

The checkpoint was set up at the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Montclair Street around 5 p.m. Friday and taken down at 1 a.m. Saturday. Nearly 3,000 vehicles were screened by officers, resulting in 32 citations for driving on a suspended or revoked license; 53 for driving without a valid license and 32 motorists were cited for miscellaneous vehicle code violations.

Another effective roadblock:  117 citations and 84 vehicle impounds –  worth a bucket of fines to the local city treasury.  Drunk drivers?  Who cares.

Oh, and by the way, the Supreme Court carved out an exception to the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment  for roadblocks — but only for apprehending drunk drivers, not for "insuring motorists on city streets are in possession of a valid driver’s license".


Here Come the Feds…

As everyone knows, in our federal system of government most laws are enacted and enforced by the individual states.  Burglary, murder, rape, larceny — all are defined, enforced and prosecuted by the state or local governments.  Until recently…

The laws, evidence and procedures concerning drunk driving are increasingly coming under the control of the federal government.  Over recent years, for example, the Feds have used the threat of withholding highway funds from states to force them to pass legislation championed by MADD.  Thus, for example,  South Carolina recently became the last state to cave in and adopt per se laws – driving with .08% blood-alcohol, even if sober.  All states have also now adopted Automatic License Suspension (ALS) laws, the immediate confiscation by police of driver's licenses of those suspected – not convicted – of having over .08%.  Again under federal/MADD pressure, almost all have passed zero tolerance laws lowering the blood-alcohol level to .01 or .02% for drivers under 21.  And so on…

Even the evidence in DUI cases is increasingly being dictated by the federal government.  Federal standardized field sobriety tests are being adopted across the country, and breath testing machines are now selected by state agencies from a list of federally-approved devices.

Eventually, as I've predicted in past posts (The Future of DUI), the federal government will simply federalize all state drunk driving laws, penalties and procedures — but, without the necessary law enforcement, court and jail facilities, they will still require the state to enforce those laws. 

Consider a couple of news stories just within the past five days:

State DUI Policies Criticized

Seattle, WA.  Nov. 24  –  As Thanksgiving approaches, state law enforcement is preparing for a less-than-loved holiday tradition — drunken driving. But, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, the state's laws aren't up to the challenge.

An NTSB review puts Washington among the 25 states that have not made changes to combat drunken driving that the federal safety board has recommended.

Acting board Chairman Mark Rosenker was expected to chastise the states during a meeting Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

Chief among the NTSB complaints against Washington is the state's reluctance to allow police to conduct sobriety checkpoints.

Washington's checkpoint law was struck down as unconstitutional in the late 1980s, and the state does not use them…

The NTSB also faulted the state for allowing plea bargains for first-time DUI defendants, not impounding cars driven by all drunken-driving suspects and failing to create a statewide system of DUI courts aimed at repeat offenders.


NTSB: R.I. Not Doing Enough to Fight Drunken Driving

Providence, RI.  Nov. 28  – Federal transportation officials say Rhode Island’s efforts to curb drunken driving are falling short.

The National Transportation Safety Board this week said that Rhode Island is one of the bottom three states in the nation when it comes to following agency recommendations to address drunken driving accidents and deaths.

The safety board developed 11 recommendations in 2000 for how states could reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities. Rhode Island has enacted just two of them. Only Michigan and Montana have enacted so few.

Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Rhode Island lacks legislative leadership when it comes to cracking down on drunken driving.

In the past, the federal government left the states to enact criminal laws, limiting its own jursidiction to those involving  federal interests such as counterfeiting, espionage and civil rights.  So, why the gradual takeover of DUI offenses?  

MADD, with annual revenues of about $52 million, continues to apply media and lobbying pressure — but has moved beyond their state legislatures to Congress and federal agencies.  And beaurocrats and elected representatives in Washington are just as frightened of MADD's witch-hunt as those in Sacramento or Albany.

Police Roadblocks in the New America

When the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision validated DUI "sobriety checkpoints" (aka police roadblocks), Chief Justice Rehnquist admitted that they were a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.   However, he wrote in Michigan v. Sitz, the "minimal intrusion" into citizens’ protected right to privacy was "outweighed" by the government’s interest in reducing DUI-caused fatalities.

Although the decision limited the use of roadblocks to apprehension of drunk drivers, it was not difficult to foresee that police would soon go beyond this.  And, in fact, there has been a growing increase in the use of roadblocks for purposes other than DUI detection.  See, for example, my earlier posts Sobriety Checkpoints: The Slippery Slope and The Slow Death of the Fourth Amendment.  Or just look around you….

Police Checkpoint Seeks Illegal Guns

Mt. Vernon, NY.  Sept. 28  -  Drivers entering the city from the Bronx via First Avenue last night encountered the first police checkpoint searching for illegal guns.

Amid flashing lights and flares in the roadway, more than a dozen officers were pulling over every third car to ask for permission to search for guns and check for other crimes such as drunken driving.

Hmmm…..Roadblocks to check for guns "and other crimes" — in other words, stopping you on the highways without probable cause to see if you’re doing anything wrong or have anything illegal in the car.  So much for the Fourth Amendment. 

But then, you don’t have to give the police your "permission to search", right?  Wrong.  Does anyone seriously believe that if you refused permission, you would be sent merrily on your way?

(Thanks to David O’Shea.)

Do DUI Roadblocks Work? (Part II)

As I discussed in a recent post, the fatalities statistics used by MADD and government agencies to justify DUI checkpoints are flawed. In fact, the statistics can be viewed as indicating quite the opposite.

Well, all right, so checkpoints may not reduce fatalities — but, according to MADD, they certainly result in more DUI arrests.

Wrong again. The simple fact is that checkpoints are largely wastes of police resources and taxpayer money — not to mention unjustified invasions of privacy. In fact, in the United States Supreme Court decision (Michigan v. Sitz) upholding their constitutionality, a dissenting justice pointed out the “the findings of the trial court, based on an extensive record and affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, indicate that the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative”. (Emphasis added)

This is confirmed by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies, which conclude that “the number of DWI arrests made by the roving patrol program was nearly three times the average number of DWI arrests made by the checkpoint programs”.

Then why do we have DUI roadblocks? Consider the following news story:


Chester County officials said recent recommendations from the national headquarters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving have been implemented by area police departments for years. Among the recommendations are an increased focus on prevention tactics such as sobriety checkpoints.

“We work with MADD and will continue to work with them to reduce the incidents of drunken driving in Pennsylvania,” (DOT spokesperson Jenny) Robinson said….

“I’ve read that police are less than enthusiastic about DUI checkpoints because they don’t make as many arrests,” (MADD official Bryce) Templeton said….

Richard Harkness, superintendent of the Tredyffrin Police Department, said checkpoints keep drivers aware that police are on the lookout for drunken drivers. He said there usually aren’t many DUI arrests at checkpoints, but they help educate the public.

“There should be as many DUI roadblocks as economically feasible,” Harkness said.

So…Roadblocks are invasive, don’t reduce fatalities and don’t produce more arrests — but we should have lots more of them. Why? To educate us.