Tag: Sobriety Checkpoint

Sobriety Checkpoint

The purpose of DUI checkpoints, it seems, is to catch drunk drivers. Armed with a sure-fire method of detecting impairment – a breathalyzer – it would seem that a sobriety checkpoint would be an effective way to snag someone who is driving under the influence. Just set up shop somewhere unexpected, and bang! You’re busted.

But it doesn’t work that way. You’ve probably noticed news items that mention where the next DUI checkpoint will be.

Why announce DUI checkpoints

Some people consider that a head-slap-worthy mistake. Announce the checkpoint early? So that drunks can avoid it? How dumb can you be?

But it’s not dumb, or a mistake: it’s the law. In states that employ DUI checkpoints to catch drunk drivers, the time and place must be announced beforehand.

The law stems from a Supreme Court ruling some years ago. Checkpoints were controversial then, as they are now. Supporters note that they are valuable as a way to catch impaired drivers and deter others from drinking and driving. Opponents consider them a violation of the Fourth Amendment: searching a person without a warrant is against the constitution.

The Necessity of Prior Notice

The Supreme Court ruled that DUI checkpoints are indeed constitutional, but only if certain procedures are followed:

  • Law enforcement must announce to the public the date and time of the checkpoint
  • There must be a valid reason for the checkpoint, e.g. drunk driving arrests or collisions are more frequent on a given route
  • There must be a specific plan designating which vehicles are to be stopped, e.g. every tenth vehicle

These guidelines are in place to prevent police-state tactics such as singling out drivers because of their race, appearance, or political views (as on a bumper sticker). They also prevent unconscious biases from influencing the process.

Why DUI Checkpoints Work Anyway

Even with prior announcement, sobriety checkpoints do indeed catch a lot of drunk drivers, as well as violators of other types. Just as important, they act as a very powerful deterrent. Other motorists who are on the way to a restaurant or bar will pass the checkpoint and decide it’s a bad idea to drink and drive.

These guidelines have not made DUI checkpoints universally accepted. Twelve states do not allow checkpoints, either because the conflict with state laws or because the states interpret the U.S. Constitution in a way that prohibits them.

If you see a notice about a sobriety checkpoint, don’t shake your head at the senselessness of it all. The publicity is a protection of your rights, and in any case, the checkpoint will do its job and keep drunk drivers off the road, either through arrest or deterrence.

Ten thousand drivers were pulled over by Durham police over the 7 weeks that ended just after New Year’s Day. Every driver was asked a simple question:

“Have you been drinking?”

Most said no. But altogether 118 of those drivers – some who might have even have answered “no” despite evidence to the contrary – were arrested and charged with impaired driving. They were nabbed at one of the many registered DUI checkpoints operated as part of the 2015 Festive RIDE campaign. That’s a 1.18 percent success rate, figuring that finding drunk drivers is the success indicator here.

Is that 1.8 percent rate a good thing? Overall, the Durham police report that drunk driving numbers are down as a general trend. There are a number of reasons for the improvement:

  • Successful anti-drunk driving education: anyone who doesn’t know by now that they shouldn’t drink and drive is living in a cave
  • Rideshare services and taxi apps that make it easier to get home after a night drinking
  • DUI checkpoints themselves, which not only remove drunk drivers from the road but alert everyone to the increased vigilance of the police, leading them to make better choices
  • Ignition interlock laws, which mandate car breathalyzers for many offenders, thus making it difficult or impossible for them to get behind the wheel while under the influence

Durham’s experience is not unique. Many communities in many states are showing steady downturns in alcohol-related driving arrests, collisions and road deaths.

So a 1.8 percent arrest rate means that 98.2 percent of drivers have gotten the message: it doesn’t pay to drink and drive.


Two things you can count on during the holidays in Arizona:

  1. People will be driving under the influence
  2. Police will be making an extra effort to catch people driving under the influence

Last Tuesday law enforcement officials gathered at the State Capitol to announce a DUI crackdown. To drive home the point that drunk driving will not be tolerated in Arizona, a fearsome gauntlet of DUI enforcement vehicles was on display.

Sobriety Checkpoints

Arizona is one of 38 states in which sobriety checkpoints are legal. However, they are not often used, as saturation patrols are the preferred method of tackling impaired drivers in the state. At a checkpoint, drivers are stopped according to a designated formula (to prevent prejudice on the part of the officer) and asked if they have been drinking. The officer has the right to look for evidence of impairment or other violation. Such checkpoints also serve to increase police visibility and increase drivers’ awareness of the possibility of arrest.

Saturation Patrols

Arizona-dept-public-safety-dui-crackdownSaturation patrols are more active in nature than checkpoints. Police are on the move in a designated area, looking for signs of impairment in drivers but also watching out for other violations, such as broken headlights and taillights or seatbelt violations. Once a vehicle is stopped an officer can check for the smell of alcohol, suspicious behavior, or other indications of impairment.

Like checkpoints, saturation patrols also serve to raise the profile of law enforcement and put the idea of risk of arrest in drinkers’ heads, so they make the right decision and designate a driver or take a taxi home.

Last year almost 30,000 people were arrested for drunk driving in Arizona. Many of those were picked up as a result of saturation patrols and other concerted efforts to combat drunk driving in the state. Thanks to the DUI crackdown that just launched, this holiday season will be no easier on anyone making the bad decision to drink and drive.

North Carolina Sobriety CheckpointSobriety checkpoints are still a hot-button issue in the US. The Supreme Court has declared them a reasonable search, but many people dislike the idea of stopping cars at random to ask if the driver is impaired. At present 38 states including North Carolina have laws allowing sobriety checkpoints, and the rest do not.

One common question drivers ask is, “If I see a checkpoint ahead, is it legal to turn around beforehand to avoid it?”

The answer is a qualified “Yes.” Yes because nothing technically stops you from turning around if you see the “Sobriety Checkpoint Ahead” sign. Qualified because in North Carolina, if you do avoid a checkpoint, officers have a right to stop you and ask why.

Checkpoints operate under strict rules to pass the test of constitutionality. They must be publicized in advance, and when they are set up, they must either check all vehicles or choose them on a random basis. They also cannot detain drivers for an unreasonable amount of time.

What are checkpoint officers looking for?

  • Evidence of impairment. First and foremost, checkpoints exist to take drunk and drugged drivers off the road. An officer will ask you if you have been drinking, or are under the influence of any substance. He or she will check your eyes, listen to your speect, and observe your movements. If the officer finds any evidence of impairment, things will advance to the next stage and you’ll be given a field sobriety test.
  • Suspended licenses. All too many suspended drivers continue to drive, so the officer will very possibly check to see that your license is current.
  • Unregistered or uninsured vehicles. An unregistered vehicle is uninspected and possibly a safety hazard, and lack of insurance is a serious violation. The officer will give these a check.
  • Observable vehicle violations. If your taillight is out, your turn signal faulty, or one of your headlights out, you can expect a ticket.

Given that all the things the checkpoint officers are looking for are unlawful, and most are dangerous, the question is: why would you turn around to avoid a sobriety checkpoint? If it’s to avoid a DUI, then you should not be on the road in the first place. If it’s to avoid another kind of ticket, the same applies.

Moreover, it’s possible that, while avoiding the checkpoint, that you commit a traffic infraction, say, by making an illegal U-turn. That will land you in trouble.

Whether or not you agree with the idea of checkpoints, they do serve to catch impaired drivers and unsafe vehicles and reduce collisions on the road. So if you are stopped at a sobriety checkoint, the best policy is to comply and answer questions. If you’re sober, and not committing any other violation, you’ll be on your way in no time.

designated-driver-reward-gas-cardThe designated driver is one of the heroes of our age. They might not look like X-Men, but these fine people save thousands of lives each year by helping friends avoid a dangerously bad decision.

Their rewards are few – a slurred “Thanks, man” or a pat on the shoulder. Don’t they deserve more for preventing an unbelievable amount of carnage?

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department thinks so. So police in Tucson set up a DUI checkpoint to watch for drunk drivers. Since school is starting, students are on the move, which means there’s a likelihood of impaired young people on the road. Whenever the police found a sober driver and tipsy passengers, the driver got a $25 gas card. All they needed to do was blow a zero on the breathalyzer.

Will this gesture end drunk driving in Tucson? Probably not. But it will give the designated drivers pause, and give them a sense that they really are of value to their peers and their pima-county-sheriffs-deptcommunity. And that suggests that they’ll continue being designated drivers.

Bravo to Tucson and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department publicizing the great work that designated drivers do. For once, they get a bit of the glory they deserve. And their passengers get a safe ride home. It works for everybody.

Being held up at a sobriety checkpoint is never fun. Moreover, many people have concerns about them, and this has led to legal battles, and even a Supreme Court case. And while the controversies won’t be settled anytime soon, you should have the facts in case you are stopped at a North Carolina DWI checkpoint.

DWI Checkpoints are Legal

Currently 39 states allow DWI checkpoints, which enable the police to stop cars at random and try to determine if the driver is impaired. North Carolina is one of those states.

However, just because checkpoints are legal does not mean that the police can stop whomever they wish. In order to make checkpoints constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, the checkpoints must follow prescribed rules and pass certain tests:

  • The check must be random. Once it is set up, a checkpoint must check all cars, or cars must be chosen on a random basis – say, every tenth car.
  • There must be a specific purpose. Police can’t check for general crimes. They need to be looking for impaired drivers or other specific offenses.
  • The checkpoint must be announced. Some states require that police publish in advance the location of the checkpoint. In North Carolina all that’s required is that the checkpoint has visible flashing blue lights.
  • Avoiding the checkpoint. Some states require that drivers have a means to avoid the checkpoint if they wish. Not so in North Carolina, where the police can stop a vehicle that has turned around to avoid the checkpoint, in order to ask why.
  • Other violations. Different states have different rules about just what violations an officer can look for. Some states confine the allowable violations to what can be observed – impairment, broken headlights, and the like. North Carolina includes unobservable violations such as driving on suspended licenses. However, the officers may not look for evidence of non-motor vehicle related crimes.

Balance is the key

Clearly, sobriety checkpoints can be an inconvenience. But these traffic stops do help the police arrest many drunk drivers, and thus increase road safety. So the police and courts are tasked with striking a balance between the public interest and the individual’s privacy. That’s a battle that’s taking place on many fronts. On North Carolina’s roads, the Supreme Court has ruled that drunk driving is simply too dangerous, and that a short wait at a sobriety checkpoint and a few questions from a police officer is a small price to pay for the added protection that these checkpoints afford to all citizens of the state. To find out how you can best navigate a North Carolina checkpoint, go here.

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