DUI Deterrents: Checkpoints and Saturation Patrols


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studies the effectiveness of DUI counter measures and publishes reports on the findings. You may be surprised to learn that one of the most effective deterrents to driving under the influence is DUI checkpoints. You probably know what a checkpoint is; most likely, you have probably also driven through one.

In what is described as high-quality studies, the NHTSA reports that publicized checkpoints reduce alcohol-related fatalities, injuries, and property damage crashes each by about 20%. You might think that the police want to keep the locations of their DUI checkpoints a secret in order to snag unsuspecting drivers but that is not correct. According to the NHTSA, the purpose of the checkpoints is not to increase arrests but to deter drunken driving by increasing the perceived risk of getting arrested for DUI. To that end, the effectiveness of checkpoints depends on well-publicized and highly visible checkpoints conducted on a regular basis.

In one particularly compelling study, a year-long program of weekly checkpoints in two West Virginia counties resulted in a 70% fewer drivers with BACs over the drunken driving threshold in those counties as compared to West Virginia counties that did not operate the weekly checkpoints.

DUI checkpoints are often criticized as not being effective because they do not result in many arrests and because they tie up traffic. While it is true that the checkpoints can certainly tie of traffic and that few drivers end up arrested at a checkpoint but that is not the purpose of the checkpoint.

Checkpoints have been criticized for not being as effective as “saturation patrols.” Saturation patrols consist of a large concentration of police patrols in a specific area for set time. Saturation patrols are also usually well-publicized with the primary purpose to deter drunken driving by increasing the perceived risk of getting arrested for DUI. Although the NHTSA studies indicate that checkpoints are more effective and less costly than saturation patrols (by only a small margin), other studies have found saturation patrols more effective. However, these studies measure the effectiveness of saturation patrols based on the number of arrests for DUI, not deterrence, which according to the NHTSA is the purpose of both methods. If you think about it, just hearing on the news that there will be checkpoints or saturation patrols would tend to make a person think twice before going out with the intention of drinking without a sober driver to tag along.

On a related note, you may have a defense to a DUI arrest that occurred at a police checkpoint as the police are required to follow certain guidelines in conducting checkpoints. You can read more about that here.

William Weinberg is an attorney with over 20 years defending DUI cases and he is available to speak with you about your particular matter by contacting him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.