Category Archives: DUI Law

Are DUI Roadblocks Effective?

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:

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:

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.

Are DUI Checkpoint Roadblocks that Effective?

Ok, I’ve posted repeatedly in the past that so-called “sobriety checkpoints” are ineffective and unconstitutional, and are inreasingly used as revenue generators and illegal subterfuges to stop citizens for unrelated matters.  

Do they work?  At the risk of beating a dead horse….

Study Says DUI Checkpoints Ineffective

Phoenix, AZ, Dec. 14  –  Drunken driving checkpoints are costly and do little to prevent DUI-related traffic deaths, according to new data from the American Beverage Institute.

“The states that use roving patrols have an average of 7 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities than those states that use checkpoints,” said Sarah Longwell of the Institute, which compiled the numbers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

She said some states “really see the value in increasing roving patrols over sobriety checkpoints, while others defend the practice, saying it’s a deterrent mechanism.”

Mesa Police have used mostly roving patrols in recent years, but checkpoints aren’t out of the picture, said Detective Steve Berry.

“We do use them, we don’t necessarily use them all the time, we just consider them another tool that we have in our bag,” said Berry. “The last one that we did here in Mesa was on Sept. 3 of this year, but prior to that, we had not done one in three to four years.”

Longwell said the checkpoints are costly and ineffective and issued a challenge to police looking for drunken drivers.  

An interesting law enforcement concept:  If they don’t work, don’t use them…..Unless they raise a lot of money for local government from unrelated license, registration and equipment citations, or are used illegally as deterrence or for stopping citizens for unauthorized reasons.

Police Using DUI Roadblocks Illegally

A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court found yet another “DUI Exception the Constitution” in permitting police to set up roadblocks — even though they admittedly violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against stopping citizens without probable cause.  See my earlier post DUI Sobriety Checkpoints: Unconstitutional?  The Court, of course, was careful to restrict the use of such roadblocks to apprehension of drunk drivers exclusively.


I predicted that this pathetic Rehnquist decision would prove yet another tool for police to circumvent the Constitution in non-DUI situations — resulting in a continuing erosion of that great document through a growing list of exceptions and word games.  And this has repeatedly proven to be the case.  From yesterday’s news:

Police At DUI Checkpoints Find More Than Drunk Drivers

Johnson County, KY   Dec. 3  — Police at DUI checkpoints in one eastern Kentucky county find more than drunk drivers.

Police say they found marijuana and prescription pills in three un-related cases.  Five suspects are in jail after sheriff deputies say they caught them red-handed with drugs, but some of the suspects put up a fight and tried to escape.

Johnson County Sheriff deputies say they noticed more traffic than usual on Highway 11-07 in Thelma.

After complaints from neighbors, deputies set up a DUI checkpoint to find out what was going on…

Officers call the checkpoint a success, “Nine bags of marijuana were taken off the streets and that means there’s nine bags of marijuana that won’t go into the hands of children in the Thelma area or Johnson County,” Sgt. Wyatt said 

“…deputies set up a DUI checkpoint to find out what was going on”.  And the reporter didn’t even notice anything wrong with that.

DUI Survey — or Roadblock?

As if unconstitutional police "sobriety checkpoints" weren’t enough, we now have privately-run but police-enforced roadblocks:

Alcohol Surveys Spur Complaints

A motorist who was stopped wants a halt to voluntary testing that is so "persistent" it feels like a DUI checkpoint. 

Denver, CO.  Sept. 18  -  The Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office was apologizing Monday after a weekend effort to help a research group led to complaints about what appeared to be a DUI checkpoint – but wasn’t.

Sheriff’s officials who participated in the stops now acknowledge that the nonprofit organization requesting voluntary DUI and drug tests from drivers was overly persistent, according to complaints.

Sgt. Bob Enney said deputies assisted the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in stopping motorists at five sites along Colorado 119 for surveys on any drug and alcohol use. Surveyors then asked the motorists to voluntarily submit to tests of their breath, blood and saliva. At least 200 drivers were tested, Enney said. About five motorists later complained, he said.

Pacific Institute officials defended the initiative. They said the collection of vital statistics measuring, over time, the number of people driving under the influence helps gauge the impact of laws and enforcement policy changes.

"We’ve been literally surveying thousands of people," said John Lacey, the director of the Alcohol, Policy and Safety Research Center in Calverton, Md., through which Pacific Institute conducted its research. "So you can imagine if you stop people in the middle of the night, there will be complaints."…

Cathryn Hazouri, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the participation of sheriff’s officials and the blue jumpsuits worn by the survey team may have confused some of those who were stopped.

And what do you think those deputy sheriffs would have done if any of those motorists had tested positive or had alcohol on his breath?  And doesn’t that make it an unauthorized de facto police DUI roadblock?  So…If police can’t get authorization for a roadblock, why not just set up a "survey" roadblock?

(Thanks to David O’Shea and Jeanne M. Pruett.)

Purpose of DUI Roadblocks: “Shock and Awe”

As I've indicated repeatedly in the past, DUI roadblocks (or to use the more politically correct term, "sobriety checkpoints") are proven to be ineffective and are used primarily as a dragnet to raise revenue from citations for traffic, license/registration and equipment violations.  Law enforcement agencies are finally ending the pretense that roadblocks are effective at catching drunk drivers (the basis for the Supreme Court upholding this Fourth Amendment violation) but are now justifying them as "deterrence" (i.e., frightening people). 

Sobriety Roadblocks

They're praised as a deterrent but don't yield the most arrests

Mechanicsville, VA.  June 17  –  It was Friday, the opening night of the long Memorial Day weekend — prime time for nailing drunken drivers.

From 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. officers funneled nearly 800 cars through a sobriety checkpoint at the Hanover-Henrico county line on U.S. 360…

Before the evening was over, Hanover deputies had issued 33 summonses and arrested an additional 14 people on other offenses ranging from drugs to outstanding warrants on immigration violations…

Immobile, expensive and labor-intensive, sobriety checkpoints are the fishing net of roadway law enforcement — catching everyone who enters but keeping only the violators, including impaired motorists.

"DUI road checkpoints, in and of themselves, are not necessarily designed to catch people under the influence," said Sgt. Rob Netherland, who supervises DUI checkpoints and patrols for Henrico County.

But Netherland and other officials say checkpoints do provide a worthwhile deterrent against people getting behind the wheel after they drink — a complement to the mobile and focused "saturation patrols," in which officers hit the road and actively target motorists whose driving suggests they may be under the influence.

"It's kind of like shock and awe," Hanover County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Mike Trice said of checkpoints…

In 2006, Henrico County police conducted eight sobriety checkpoints, resulting in 23 DUI arrests — a small number compared with the 855 DUI convictions the county recorded that year from arrests on routine patrols and other anti-drinking initiatives.

The Hanover Sheriff's Office ran four sobriety checkpoints in 2006, yielding 12 DUI arrests. The county recorded 337 DUI convictions that year.

Four sobriety checkpoints run by Richmond Police last year netted three DUI arrests in a city that recorded 590 DUI convictions, though officers made 170 arrests on related and unrelated offenses.