A Chance to Rethink DUI Checkpoints

Posted on February 20, 2018 in Uncategorized


I wanted to re-post this very well written article from Rachel Alexander, who is an attorney and the editor of the Intellectual Conservative.

sobriety checkpoints, also known as roadblocks, are one of those things that
sound good until you think it through. No one wants drunk drivers on the road.
But no one wants texters or people eating lunch on the road, either, which are
even more dangerous. In order to catch the latter two, it would be necessary to
set up video cameras either alongside the road or inside cars. Every year,
several states that prohibit DUI checkpoints consider passing
to permit them. These laws are usually championed by

engage in secondary behavior during approximately half of their time on the
road. Hands-free mobile phone conversations are legal all around the country,
but slow reaction times by a significant 26.5 percent, according to a study from
the UK. Eating slows reaction times by up to 44 percent. Drivers who text slow
their reaction times by 37.4 percent. In contrast, drivers at the legal limit
for alcohol in the UK, which is .08 BAC, only demonstrated a 12.5 percent
increase in reaction time. The National Highway Administration finds this
disparity to be even greater, surmising that driving a vehicle while texting is
six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

This becomes even more
troublesome when it is taken into consideration that some states don't require
a minimum BAC level for a DUI; the violation level is "impaired to the
slightest degree." Someone who blows a .03 BAC level may be perfectly
capable of driving safely, but the laws as drafted in many states do not
distinguish. If caught at a DUI checkpoint, even though the driver has not made
a single driving error, the driver can likely expect to be fully prosecuted
with little chance of escaping the draconian consequences of a DUI conviction.

There are state laws that
prohibit "distracted driving," but it is difficult for law
enforcement officers to see people engaging in texting, eating or similar
activities, especially if they have tinted windows or there is poor weather. By
the time they are stopped at a checkpoint, they can easily hide the offending
behavior. The penalties for distracted driving are merely a slap on the wrist
that won't follow you around; most states have penalties ranging from $30 to

The penalties for drunk
driving are severe, and in the Internet age, will likely torpedo someone's
career forever. Do a Google search on someone's name that has a recent DUI
conviction, and the DUI conviction probably appears in the first results of the
search. The costs and fees imposed on a DUI offender, even a first-time
offender, are draconian. Their license is suspended for at least a month, which
greatly hampers their ability to get to work or anywhere else. Many states
require offenders to install a costly ignition interlock device on their car,
at their own expense. There may be court-mandated community service,
participation in costly drunk-driving education programs, and at least one day
in jail. Their car insurance rates skyrocket and many schools will not give a
scholarship to someone with a DUI conviction.

costs of enforcing DUI checkpoints are staggering. The state of California spends $12
million on them. A single checkpoint runs taxpayers $8,000 to $10,000. Many of
the checkpoints are staffed by an officer working overtime, which increases the

newspaper investigation a few years ago in Arizona found that checkpoints rarely
catch anyone. Police officers stopped 46,000 drivers between 2005 and 2007, but
only 75 stops resulted in convictions. Joe St. Louis, an Arizona attorney who
makes a living representing DUI offenders, told the Arizona
Daily Star
, "It's just crazy. If you stop people at random,
it's not an efficient use of your time or of taxpayer dollars." St. Louis
thinks since police are trained to spot drunk drivers, they would be more
effective patrolling than sitting passively at checkpoints.

formal study was
performed analyzing Maryland's DUI checkpoint program, and concluded,
"there is no evidence to indicate that this campaign, which involves a
number of sobriety checkpoints and media activities to promote these efforts,
has had any impact on public perceptions, driver behaviors, or alcohol-related
motor vehicle crashes and injuries." Similarly, the FBI compared
saturation patrols vs. DUI checkpoints, and concluded the former was more

For every police officer who
is stationed at a DUI checkpoint stopping vehicles, that is one less police
officer available to look for really dangerous drunks driving the wrong way
down the highway, or drivers weaving back and forth because they are texting,
talking on their phone or eating.

Many government officials
blatantly admit the DUI checkpoints aren't there to catch drunk drivers, but to
send a message to the community. There have been many high-profile DUI
awareness campaigns over the years. Everyone is familiar with the phrase
"don't drink and drive." These less expensive, less constitutionally
intrusive public awareness campaigns make more sense than DUI checkpoints.

U.S. Supreme Court held in the 1990 case Michigan v. Sitz that
DUI checkpoints, despite their intrusion on civil liberties as a
"seizure," do not violate the Fourth Amendment's protection from
search and seizures. The decision permits law enforcement to randomly stop cars
despite not having "reasonable suspicion." In response to this
decision, at least 10 states passed laws prohibiting
DUI checkpoints. They include freedom-loving states like Texas, Wyoming and Idaho.
Alaska hasn't passed a law banning checkpoints, but has simply never
implemented them.

in Washington State are considering this fall whether to allow checkpoints. So
far, efforts to pass DUI checkpoint laws have failed due to strict privacy
provisions in the state constitution. Doug Honig, of the ACLU of Washington
state,emphasizes the
constitutional privacy concerns
, "In our society, if you're out
and about on the highway and you aren't doing anything wrong, law enforcement
shouldn't be stopping you," Honig said. "They should have to have
individual suspicion that you are doing something wrong and not engaging in
fishing expeditions."

Gregory I. Green of D.C. police, who represents the police union, told The Washington Post,
"That's an invasion of privacy, demanding information from a citizen and
putting that in a database." Similarly, James Dempsey, executive director
of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based policy and civil
liberties organization, told the Post checkpoints go too far. "It is
pretty clear they're basically trying to track people and gather information
about people's whereabouts."

Besides the disturbing
constitutional implications, the laws aren't fair. While drunk driving is a
terrible thing, it makes no sense to pass draconian, privacy-invading laws that
target drunk driving while not targeting more dangerous behaviors. Legislators
need to stop thinking like overly emotional drunks, and start thinking about
treating people equally and protecting our constitutional right to privacy.

What it comes down to is
follow the money. Powerful lobbyists are obtaining millions of dollars in
profits for companies that manufacture ignition locks, breathalyzers and
blood-testing equipment. Similarly, slick lobbyists for the wireless phone
industry have carved out exceptions for hands-free wireless phone conversations
while driving. It has nothing to do with safety, or the more dangerous types of
distracted driving would be targeted.

Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Michigan
v. Sitz
that DUI checkpoints are "necessary" and
"effective." Since it's now clear they aren't, perhaps it's time to
revisit this opinion.

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