Sobriety checkpoints are a law enforcement technique where law enforcement officials evaluate drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment. This may create a minor inconvenience for drivers, but the Supreme Court ruled (in Michigan v. Sitz) that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional because this small inconvenience was overwhelmed by a compelling state interest in saving lives. There are many myths that the public has heard about the checkpoints and wonder if there is any truth to these. Hopefully in a minute, after reading some myths and facts, you’ll become more educated on DUI checkpoints.
Myth: People don’t like the use of checkpoints to detect and deter impaired drivers. They consider them a form of police harassment and an invasion of their privacy.
Fact: Public opinion polls indicated just the opposite. Both recent surveys and polls throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s show that 70-80% of those polled are in favor of more sobriety checkpoints use to combat drunk driving. In fact, public support tends to increase as communities experience checkpoint use. Opponents of checkpoints, tend to be those who drink and drive frequently and are concerned about being caught.
Myth: Checkpoints constitute illegal search and seizure and are therefore unconstitutional.
Fact: In general, checkpoints can be thought of as being very similar to other accepted operations such as security checkpoints set up at airports to detect air passengers attempting to carry on weapons or bombs. On June 14, 1990, the United States Supreme Court upheld the use of checkpoints to detect and deter impaired drivers.
Myth: Checkpoints are only successful as specific deterrents and do not affect the general public’s attitude about drinking and driving… only those who get caught.
Fact: Because of the heighten visibility checkpoints give to driving under the influence, checkpoints are especially valuable and effective as a general deterrent. Public information about the program and publication of arrests resulting from them further increases the general deterrent effect. If the public is aware the police will be conducting checkpoints, they tend to be much more careful in the choices that they make. They drink less, or find alternative transportation.
Myth: Checkpoints are easy for impaired drivers to avoid. They can merely turn around and detour around them or switch drivers before being stopped.
Fact: Most well-run checkpoints, like the ones conducted in Oxnard, have police motor officers down the road and at intersections while the checkpoint is in operation. If drivers make unsafe lane changes or any other unsafe type movements to avoid entering the checkpoint, the motor officers will conduct traffic stops on these vehicles for the violation to see if any impairment is present. Vehicles are not solely stopped because they make turns to avoid entering the checkpoint. In fact, drivers are allowed to make legal, safe turns at intersections prior to the checkpoint location.
Myth: Many impaired drivers do not exhibit obvious signs of alcohol usage to be detected at these checkpoints.
Fact: One must keep in mind that most police officers, especially motor officers from the Traffic Unit that typically conduct these checkpoints, are thoroughly trained in recognition of impairment. Many calls for service that police officers respond to on a daily basis are alcohol-related. Further investigation, such as beer cans inside the vehicle or a smell of an alcoholic beverage odor coming from inside the vehicle, assist in the driving under the influence investigation.
Myth: Checkpoints are not needed more than once or twice a year in any community.
Fact: Checkpoints must be run frequently to realize the desired effect in a community. They must be visible on a frequent basis in a community to maximize effectiveness. Once media coverage declines, frequency is even more important to maintaining effectiveness. The Oxnard Police Department conducts at least two checkpoints per month and/or conducts saturation of areas throughout the city.
Myth: Checkpoints are very expensive to operate.
Fact: It dose take money to operate a checkpoint and pay officers to work these operations; however, these checkpoints are paid and funded by grants that the Police Department has applied for and funds are granted. The California Office of Traffic Safety is one the major providers that allow us the run these operations in the City of Oxnard.
Be part of the solution. Find out how you can help reduce alcohol-related problems in our community by calling the Responsible Alcohol Policy Action Coalition (RAPAC) at 805.385.8238 or contact the Oxnard Police Department’s Alcohol Prevention Officer at 805.385.7460.