Sobriety checkpoints are predetermined locations, on roads, where police officers can halt motor vehicles and observe drivers for signs of intoxication. According to most law enforcement officials, the purpose of these roadblocks is to discourage people from driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A driver that is stopped may be asked to perform a field sobriety test, as well as consent to a breath test if the officer feels that one is warranted. The outcomes of these tests can result in the driver being arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI), or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI). Local law enforcement agencies often decide to implement random checkpoints more frequently on certain holidays or times of the year when drunk driving rates tend to increase.
A sobriety checkpoint generally has visible warnings for approaching motorists, which can include road signs, flares, or other types of lights. Then the vehicles usually encounter a roadblock manned by uniformed police officers. These authorities do not always stop each passing car. If the traffic volume is heavy, they may stop every fourth or every tenth vehicle, for example.
A driver may be visually assessed and sent on his or her way if the officer observes no signs of intoxication. Otherwise, the driver may have to pull over and exit his or her vehicle for further examination. At his or her discretion, the police officer can administer a field sobriety test, as well as a breath test. The laws vary with regard to the consequences of a driver refusing either of these tests. If it is determined that the driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, the officer typically follows his or her agency’s standard procedure.
Since traffic laws vary from place to place, there are diverse views regarding the legality of sobriety checkpoints. In the U.S., some states consider it a violation of one’s constitutional rights. Others, however, have laws about implied consent. Their assumption is that anyone with a driver’s license has given his or her consent for a law officer to conduct a drug or alcohol test. In states that allow sobriety checkpoints, advance planning is usually required. Law enforcement officials are frequently advised to consult with attorneys to get legal guidance on their checkpoint procedures.
Often, an administrative order is issued that explains the details of planned sobriety checkpoints. Law enforcement officers are normally instructed to choose locations that will cause minimal inconvenience to drivers and have little chance of resulting in traffic problems. While the exact locations of the roadblocks are typically not disclosed, there usually is some form of public service announcement to let people know that the checkpoints exist.
Many people question whether sobriety checkpoints are an effective deterrent. While there may not be enough scientific evidence available to draw a conclusion, there are strong arguments on both sides. Some traffic safety organizations claim that roving patrols catch more drunk drivers than random checkpoints do, while using fewer resources. On the other hand, many others argue that the checkpoints provide a good public image, and that a police presence at sobriety roadblocks demonstrates their commitment to reducing drunk driving rates.