Evidence Mixed On Sobriety Checkpoints’ Effectiveness, Constitutionality


Studies have shown that sobriety checkpoints can reduce alcohol-related crashes by 20 percent, and that every dollar invested in checkpoints can save between $6 and $23 in costs from alcohol-related crashes, says the Philadelphia Daily News. In Pennsylvania, one of 38 states that allows sobriety checkpoints, DUI-related fatalities have steadily decreased (404 last year, down from 542 in 2004), even as the number of arrests for people driving under the influence of drugs has increased dramatically (14,953 last year, up from 5,529 in 2004). “Yes, it’s a momentary intrusion, but when you see the number of lives that we save from impaired driving and the crime we get off the street – the drugs, the guns and wanted people – the juice is worth the squeeze,” said George Geisler of the Pennsylvania DUI Association.

Other research has found that “saturation patrols” – where police target a larger geographic area and look for signs of impaired driving, rather than stopping drivers indiscriminately – to be more effective than checkpoints, when measured by DUI arrests per hour. Civil libertarians and DUI attorneys question whether sobriety checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment. The issue gained national attention July 4 when an innocent Tennessee college student posted a video on YouTube of police harassing him and searching his car at a DUI checkpoint. The video went viral and has more than 4 million views. “While I recognize the danger of drunk driving, I think the more effective and constitutional way to deal with that is to have officers on patrol, not sitting at a checkpoint,” Philadelphia civil-rights attorney David Rudovsky said.

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