Battling DUI: A Comparative Analysis of Checkpoints and Saturation Patrols

By Greene, Jeffrey W. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Battling DUI: A Comparative Analysis of Checkpoints and Saturation Patrols


Greene, Jeffrey W., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Since September 11, 2001, drunk drivers have killed more people than actually died on that day. Not to take away from the tragedy of September 11, but drunk driving deaths are happening every day in America. (1)

For many years, the law enforcement community has attempted to detect impaired drivers through numerous innovative efforts and measures. The problem of driving under the influence (DUI) is well known throughout society, yet, even with all of the strategies used to remove these drivers from U.S. highways, it continues to cause needless and tragic loss of life each year. 'When will such madness end? When will society no longer tolerate drunk driving? Until that time, the law enforcement community must attempt to contain the carnage inflicted upon law-abiding citizens by impaired drivers. (2)

Law enforcement has two basic methods of dealing with the DUI problem--sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols. Sobriety checkpoints have existed for several years and have served as a deterrent to drunk driving across many communities. Although not the most aggressive method of removing impaired drivers from America's roadways, these checkpoints comprise one piece of public awareness and education relevant to the drinking and driving dilemma.

Saturation patrols, on the other hand, constitute a vigorous tactic employed by law enforcement agencies to significantly impact an area known for a high concentration of alcohol-impaired drivers. Law enforcement agencies have used saturation patrols much longer than checkpoints, sometimes under a different name or no name at all. Which method offers the best use of law enforcement's limited resources? The choice depends upon many issues, such as funding, resource allocations, and targeted areas.

The Problem

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, 16,653 people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2000, an increase of more than 800 deaths from 1999. This represented the largest percentage increase on record. (3) By some estimates, about two out of every five Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives. (4) These tragic statistics dramatically illustrate that DUI is a serious problem.

Research has indicated, however, that most impaired drivers never get arrested. Police stop some drivers, but often miss signs of impairment. (5) Estimates revealed that as many as 2,000 alcohol-impaired driving trips occur for every arrest, and, even when special drinking-driving enforcement patrols are conducted, as many as 300 trips occur for each arrest. Because the police cannot catch all offenders, the success of alcohol-impaired driving laws depends on deterring potential offenders by creating the public perception that apprehension and punishment of offenders is probable. Research also has shown that the likelihood of apprehension is more important in deterring offenders than the severity of punishment. (6) Therefore, enforcement is the key to creating the perception of a possibility of capture, while publicizing these efforts can effect a real threat of detainment.

Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoint programs are defined as procedures in which law enforcement officers restrict traffic flow in a designated, specific location so they can check drivers for signs of alcohol impairment. If officers detect any type of incapacitation based upon their observations, they can perform additional testing, such as field sobriety or breath analysis tests. (7) To this end, agencies using checkpoints must have a written policy as a directive for their officers to follow.

Agencies normally choose locations for checkpoints from areas that statistically reveal a large number of alcohol-related crashes or offenses. Officers stop vehicles based on traffic flow, staffing, and overall safety. They must stop vehicles in an arbitrary sequence, whether they stop all vehicles or a specified portion of them. …

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