Say you’re out on a Friday night and having a few drinks with your buddies. As the evening comes to a close, you and your responsible group, who have only had a couple of drinks during the lively conversation at the local bar, get into your cars to drive home.
It’s now 1:30 a.m. and you’re 10 minutes away from your home, but traffic on the major street you’re traveling on comes to a stop. Then you see the flashing lights, the police officers, the makeshift holding stations, and the two trucks. You’ve been caught in a state-sponsored DUI checkpoint.
Ontario, California police Officer Craig Ansman says that some of the people who come through the checkpoints are frustrated because they’re in a hurry. However, the fear, frustration, and anxiety associated with DUI checkpoints seems small in comparison to the amount of damage caused by impaired drivers. Each year, there are thousands of deaths in alcohol-related crashes.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there were 12,998 deaths due to drunken driving in 2007, the most recent year for which totals have been available.
Law enforcement officials and citizens both agree that drunken driving is a problem, but the formalities end there, as the groups can’t seem to agree on an effective countermeasure.
Police support DUI checkpoints, saying that having them in highly concentrated areas help catch a number of drunken drivers.
However, with checkpoints costing approximately $10,000 and roving patrols merely $300, many advocates question how effective DUI checkpoints really are.
In Ontario, for example, 85 DUI arrests and 57 other arrests were made during state-funded checkpoints and DUI saturation patrols. However, those numbers made up only a small part of the 777 drunken drivers across the city, which was a slight increase from 744 the year before.
Ansman, who has been with the Police Department’s traffic unit for two years, says the success is due to DUI checkpoints. He says the “fear of the unknown” from not knowing when or where they will be makes them effective.
However, Pomona, California, on the other hand, has had a history of controversy with DUI checkpoints.
Officials from the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant trade association based out of Washington, D.C., says that checkpoints are an ineffective countermeasure for DUI fatalities.
ABI managing director Sarah Longwell said, “Cops are pulled off the street and stand in one spot in hopes the drunken drivers come to them.”
Longwell says that only the “dumbest” drunken drivers get caught in checkpoints and the majority will find ways to avoid them.Longwell says that roving patrols and education are far more effective ways to stop drunken drivers. She says putting officers on the streets in their patrol cars to search for dangerous activities such as reckless driving and drunken driving makes her far more comfortable, saying, “If they are out, they’ll catch them.”