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5 Reasons to Get Rid of DUI Checkpoints (No, Really)

5 Reasons to Get Rid of DUI Checkpoints (No, Really)

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!

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5:20PM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

This is silly, just knowing a checkpoint exists makes me think twice about how much I've been drinking. It only takes one idiot to kill a family. Outside of that Tia T. makes some good points on the rest of your article.

7:02PM PDT on Jul 8, 2014

as others said, we need checkpoints in bars, as well. but I see nothing wrong w/trying to stop DUI's.

4:20AM PDT on Jul 8, 2014


1:35PM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

who comes to live in this country as long as they do it legally and come here to be PRODUCTIVE, CONTRIBUTING members of society. Not to come here and wait for a handout.

1:34PM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

I read this article again and had to laugh at the comment about $40 million was taken in from violations from undocumented illegal aliens. I really got a kick out of "Let’s stop being awful to our immigrant population and do away with sobriety checkpoints" REALLY? You have got to be kidding, right? Maybe the check points are in those areas because that is where they know there will be a concentration of violations! Why should legal Americans have to follow the law and pay taxes, insurance, etc. but the writer of this article thinks it is "awful" to make the illegal aliens pay when they break the law. I'm glad to know we are recouping some of our hard earned money we are having to pay out to these people in the form of public assistance and social security.
We have laws for a reason. I have a friend who had two identical twin sons who were traveling home from work one day only to be T-boned by a car full of Mexicans. One brother was killed on impact. Guess what? They were undocumented illegal aliens in an illegal car with no license to drive. Too bad they didn't catch them at a check point. If you could see the devestation and ruination of a family but someone who had no business being on the road you would see things differently. Perhaps rather than whining about check points and being "awful" to undocomented aliens, the writer should spend their time helping them learn the laws and becoming PRODUCTIVE, CONTRIBUTING members of society. I could give a rat's ass who come

11:38AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Well said Barbara K.
I don't know where the $10,000 figure came from as a cost to set up a check point - certainly does not cost that much in most places. Anyway, even if it was $10,000 (I would have to see the proof) I would be willing to bet if you asked the parents or family of a loved one who was killed by a drunk driver if the cost of setting up a check point was justified they would say ABSOLUTELY even if it meant taking one drunk off the road. As far as all the other violations people are caught with at a check point, that's why its called a checCHECK POINT - checking for other things as well which makes it even more cost efficient - outstanding warrants, drugs, child safety issues, etc.

6:26AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

I find it very amusing how some people want to handcuff the police until they are in need.
Then they want a cop to respond within 15 seconds and save their day.

3:25AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014


12:12AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Stopping places from selling alcohol isn't going to happen, be real. But perhaps stopping
It closer to the source. Perhaps if you drink out at an establishment you should have to give up your keys to someone who runs the exiting of the establishments. To get your keys back you must pass the blow test before you leave. They can add a small fee for those intending to drink and since the tax money spent usually doesn't catch the drunks those establishments that run the program can apply for grants coming from that pot of funds. Keep a log to prove they are using the funds toward supplies and personal. Don't you think this would make better use of the funds and actually catch and stop those before they get on the road. Those who drink responsible should not have a problem with this. Either they wait for a ride or the establishment can call a cab. In the end those planning on getting bombed may use the sober friend driver more often. Yeah there are some things to be worked out but as long as you run these useless check points they really are not helping and it's time to change to the heart of the matter at least for most drunks. Now those that drink at home well it seems those that drink at home and crash on the way to get food at burger King are not getting caught anyway but a set up like mandatory checks at drink establishments pinches shut the huge arteries of drunks leaving bars taverns and even restaurants

11:24PM PDT on Jul 6, 2014

It is costly. It would make more sense if they didn't announce where it's going to be. However they need to put in breathalyzers to start your vehicle so that it wont start if you have been drinking. Bars and restaurants need to be more responsible also. The sell of alcohol needs to be tightened up in general

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