If you’re out driving this Fourth of July holiday weekend, your odds of having to pass through a sobriety checkpoint are fairly good. Though they are purportedly established for “safety,” they’re actually pretty bogus.
No, this article is not an endorsement of drinking and driving, but there are plenty of legitimate reasons to do away with checkpoints. Hear me out:
1. They Aren’t Very Good at Catching Drunk Drivers
Stats are rarely well publicized for checkpoints since the numbers are far from impressive, but here are a few published by the press:
- In 2007, fewer than 1% of the nearly 200,000 people subject to checkpoint stops in Pennsylvania were arrested.
- In California in 2008, police stopped more than a million drivers at checkpoints and considered only 0.3% to be potentially intoxicated.
- In a twelve-month period from 2010-11, West Virginia stopped 130,000 drivers yet made only 189 arrests from these operations. 97% of the state’s DUI arrests occurred outside of checkpoints.
2. They’re Expensive to Conduct
Oh, and did we mention that in addition to having a shoddy success rate, sobriety checkpoints generally cost about $10,000 a pop? That’s a lot of tax dollars, especially considering that roving officers are exponentially better at catching DUI offenders and cost the state only $300 a piece to put on the road each night.
The math simply doesn’t justify this type of approach. At least until you start factoring in the potential money the police can earn rather than what they’re spending.
3. They More Often Target Undocumented Immigrants
LA Weekly reports that checkpoints take in about $40 million in fines and seizures for California each year. Most of that money is not related to drunk driving charges, and surprise surprise, most of the money is generated from charges against undocumented immigrants without driver’s licenses. In 2009, California seized 24,000 vehicles at checkpoints yet made only 3,200 suspected DUI arrests.
All this raises the question: what are the police really after? If time after time, they’re getting the same results (i.e. arresting people without proper papers exponentially over impaired drivers), is it really fair to call it a sobriety checkpoint when they seem to be in the business of doing something else? It can’t be a coincidence that the majority of sobriety checkpoints are conducted in neighborhoods with large Latino populations.
4. They’re Just Another Excuse for Police to Exert Unnecessary and Unlawful Power
Last July 4, a Tennessee resident quietly filmed his stop at one of these checkpoints and made the mistake of demonstrating that he knew his rights. Suffice it to say, to contemporary police officers, knowing your rights is tantamount to criminal behavior.
The police do a bogus search of the detained (but never officially “detained” given the officer’s intentional lack of response) driver’s car. After discovering the whole stop was filmed, he was finally let go. Not once at the sobriety checkpoint was he questioned about drinking alcohol. For the record, of the 250 cars that passed through this checkpoint, only one was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
The checkpoint procedure is just another way of introducing the police state into our lives under the guise of “safety” while actually depriving us of our rights.
5. They’re Only Debatably Constitutional
Many argue that sobriety checkpoints contradict the Fourth Amendment’s promise to protect “against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Given that checkpoints uniformly stop everyone without justifiable cause and don’t monitor the cars for impaired driving before passing through, it could be labeled an “unreasonable” search.
In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled on this matter in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. Six of the justices agreed that traffic checkpoints’ contributions to public safety made them reasonable. Of course, if the Court were able to look at some of the more recent statistics on the effectiveness of these stops, they might reconsider whether or not the minute success rate makes these searches reasonable after all.
Surely, there are better, more lawful approaches to get intoxicated drivers off the streets. Let’s stop being awful to our immigrant population and do away with sobriety checkpoints; in the meantime, please drive safely!