St. Patrick’s day is one of the biggest days of the year for drinkers. In central Ohio, it’s second only to Independence Day. It is no surprise, then, that the Franklin County DUI Task Force announced two DUI checkpoints for St. Patrick’s Day, 2011. What may come as a surprise is that, after stopping 727 cars, only seven people were charged with D.U.I. (O.V.I.).
At DUI checkpoints, also called roadblocks, officers stop every vehicle (or subset of vehicles) that comes through the checkpoint location to question drivers about driving under the influence. The United States Supreme Court upheld the validity of sobriety checkpoints in Michigan v. Sitz. The Court found the inconvenience of drivers being stopped is outweighed by the government’s legitimate interest in reducing drunk driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established recommended procedures for the locations of checkpoints, the operation of checkpoints, the publicity of checkpoints, and the extent of officer discretion involved in checkpoints.
If a driver is stopped at a checkpoint and suspected of being under the influence, the driver is further detained and subjected to field sobriety testing and breath testing. If the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence, the officer arrests the driver and charges the driver with Operating a Vehicle under the Influence (O.V.I.).
The goals for sobriety checkpoints are to deter drunk driving, detect drunk driving, and punish drunk drivers. While these are worthy goals, checkpoints really are not an effective method for enforcing D.U.I. laws. In the Sitz case, 1.6% of the drivers stopped were found to be under the influence. In the recent Franklin County checkpoint, that number was fewer than one percent (seven out of 727). While few drunk drivers are detected or punished using D.U.I. checkpoints, hundreds of drivers are inconvenienced in the process.