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Research Update: Sobriety Checkpoints Are Effective in Reducing Alcohol-Related Crashes
Fewer alcohol-related crashes occur when sobriety checkpoints are implemented, according to a report published in the December 2002 issue of Traffic Injury Prevention. This conclusion is based on a systematic review of research on sobriety checkpoints. The review was conducted by a team of experts led by CDC scientists, under the oversight of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services–a 15-member, non-federal group of leaders in various health-related fields. (Visit www.thecommunityguide.org for more information.) The review combined the results of 23 scientifically–sound studies from around the world. Results indicated that sobriety checkpoints consistently reduced alcohol–related crashes, typically by about 20%. The results were similar regardless of how the checkpoints were conducted, and results were similar for short–term “blitzes” or when checkpoints were used continuously for several years. This suggests that the effectiveness of checkpoints does not diminish over time.
What Are Sobriety Checkpoints?
Sobriety checkpoints are traffic stops where law enforcement officers systematically select drivers to assess their level of alcohol impairment. The goal of these interventions is to deter alcohol–impaired driving by increasing drivers' perceived risk of arrest. Two types of sobriety checkpoints exist. Selective breath testing (SBT) checkpoints are the only type used in the United States. At these checkpoints, police must have a reason to suspect that drivers have been drinking before testing their blood alcohol levels. At random breath testing (RBT) checkpoints, all drivers who are stopped have their blood alcohol levels tested. These checkpoints are used in Australia and several European countries.1
Issues for Implementation
Legal issues: Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, some states prohibit them based on statutes or from interpretation of state constitutions.
Financial issues: Sobriety checkpoints result in substantial savings to society as a whole. Nonetheless, for the agencies that implement them, it can be costly to initiate and maintain checkpoint programs. For this reason, it is important that sobriety checkpoint programs are adequately funded.
Community involvement and support: Most Americans support sobriety checkpoints, and levels of public support often increase after checkpoints are implemented. Building on this support can lead to partnerships between the general public, advocacy groups, federal, state, and local government, and law enforcement agencies. Broad-based community support can help law enforcement agencies develop and maintain strong checkpoint programs.
Support among law enforcement: Support among the police officers conducting checkpoints is important. Because checkpoints tend to result in few arrests for alcohol-impaired driving, it is important for officers to understand that the primary goal is to prevent such occurrences. Checkpoints can also lead to the arrest of drivers for other offenses, such as weapons possession.
- Elder RW, Shults RA, Sleet DA, Nichols JL, Zaza S, Thompson R. Effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints for reducing alcohol-involved crashes. Traffic Injury Prevention 2002;3:266-74.
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