Sobriety checkpoints allow police officers to briefly stop vehicles at specific, highly visible locations to check drivers for impairment. Police officers can stop all or a certain portion of drivers.1 Breath tests can be given if police officers have reason to suspect that a driver is impaired.2 When implemented fully, sobriety checkpoints are well publicized, highly visible, and regularly conducted.1 Just like saturation patrols, the goal of sobriety checkpoints is to increase the perceived likelihood that impaired driving will be identified and penalized, leading to a reduction in impaired driving.1
One study examined associations between impaired driving prevention enforcement and the rate of self-reported alcohol-impaired driving by state.3 Rates of impaired driving were significantly lower in states that conducted sobriety checkpoints.3 This relationship held for enforcement at both the state and local levels and after controlling for binge drinking.3
Studies have consistently found sobriety checkpoints to be effective in reducing crashes and crash fatalities. A 2009 meta-analysis found that sobriety checkpoints reduced crashes involving alcohol.4 A Community Guide Systematic Review of studies published during 2000–2012 found strong evidence that publicized sobriety checkpoints are effective in reducing alcohol-involved crash fatalities.5,6 An analysis of 2013–2017 data from the City of Los Angeles found that alcohol-involved crashes were reduced for about one week following individual roadside sobriety checkpoints.7 A similar study of 2012–2018 data from Brisbane, Australia, also found a decrease in crashes in the week following checkpoints, with this effect present for checkpoints of multiple sizes (small or large) and durations (three to eight hours).8
High enforcement and publicity are important to the success of sobriety checkpoints.1 Five studies in the Community Guide Systematic Review measured media campaign success. All of them found increases in awareness of messaging about drinking and driving or checkpoints.5 The largest increases in awareness were also in the studies with the largest decreases in alcohol-involved crash fatalities.5 Similarly, in an evaluation of seven states with publicized enforcement demonstration programs (such as sobriety checkpoint campaigns) during 2000–2003, states with lower levels of enforcement and less publicity did not have decreases in fatalities when compared to neighboring states. States with higher enforcement and more publicity did see decreases.9
Although sobriety checkpoints are effective in reducing alcohol-involved crash fatalities, few states conduct them regularly due to lack of funding and law enforcement personnel.10 A 2010–2011 survey of law enforcement agencies in the United States found that 73% of state and 42% of local law enforcement agencies had conducted at least one sobriety checkpoint in the past year.11 In the same survey, only 25% of state law enforcement agencies had conducted sobriety checkpoints weekly or daily in the past year.11 Similarly, a 2012–2014 survey of law enforcement agencies in the United States found that 77% of state, 55% of municipal, and 60% of county law enforcement agencies conducted sobriety checkpoints.12 Of the state law enforcement agencies who perform sobriety checkpoints, 24% conducted them daily or weekly and 73% always or frequently pool resources with other law enforcement agencies.12
Please see the most recent NHTSA Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Lawsexternal icon for recent information on sobriety checkpoint laws by state.13
The two main costs to implement sobriety checkpoints are law enforcement personnel and paid publicity.1 While typical checkpoints use 15 or more officers, checkpoints using a smaller number of officers (three to five) can be successfully conducted.1,14 Publicity is essential to the success of sobriety checkpoints.1 Some publicity may come from earned media like news stories, but paid media like radio ads may be necessary and can be costly.1 Social media should also be included in publicity for the checkpoints.1
If officers are already trained in detecting impaired drivers, conducting standardized field sobriety tests, and carrying out checkpoint procedures, sobriety checkpoints can be implemented quickly.1
You can read Chapter 1, Section 2.1 of NHTSA’s Countermeasures that Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Officespdf iconexternal icon (Tenth Edition, 2020) to learn more about the topics above or other issues related to sobriety checkpoints, such as legality, visibility, arrests, combining checkpoints with other activities, and standardized field sobriety tests.1
More information can also be found on The Community Guide’s webpage covering Motor Vehicle Injury – Alcohol-Impaired Driving: Publicized Sobriety Checkpoint Programsexternal icon15 as well as NHTSA’s Increasing impaired-driving enforcement visibility: Six case studiespdf iconexternal icon.16
You can read the RAND Corporation’s final reports for MV PICCS 1.0/2.0external icon and MV PICCS 3.0external icon for more information about how effectiveness and costs were incorporated into the MV PICCS tool for this intervention.
Sobriety checkpoints were first introduced during the 1930s in Scandinavia and have become popular worldwide, with some countries allowing for all drivers who are stopped to be given a breath test.2 In the 1980s, alcohol-impaired driving gained attention in the United States with the advocacy of citizen organizations, advances in the collection of data about alcohol-involved crashes, and legislative changes.17 Throughout the decade, impaired driving enforcement changed, including the addition of roadside use of hand-held preliminary breath test devices and an increase in sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols.17
The constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints was questioned because of a perceived violation of protections against unnecessary search and seizure in the Fourth Amendment.9 In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sobriety checkpoints constitutional at the federal level.9 Some states have laws authorizing sobriety checkpoints, some have laws disallowing them, and some have no relevant laws.18 As of June 2020, 37 states and the District of Columbia conducted sobriety checkpoints.18 Historically, public support for sobriety checkpoints is high, with 73% of people in a 2009 nationally representative survey supporting the use of checkpoints in their community several times a month.19 See above for recent legislation.
- Venkatraman, V., Richard, C. M., Magee, K., & Johnson, K. (2021). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices. (Report No. DOT HS 813 097). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/2021-09/15100_Countermeasures10th_080621_v5_tag.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
- Elder, R., Shults, R., Sleet, D., Nichols, J., Zaza, S., & Thompson, R. (2002). Effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints for reducing alcohol-involved crashes. Traffic Injury Prevention, 3(4), 266–274. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15389580214623external icon
- Sanem, J. R., Erickson, D. J., Rutledge, P. C., Lenk, K. M., Nelson, T. F., Jones-Webb, R., & Toomey, T. L. (2015). Association between alcohol-impaired driving enforcement-related strategies and alcohol-impaired driving. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 78, 104–109. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457515000676external icon
- Erke, A., Goldenbeld, C., & Vaa, T. (2009). The effects of drink-driving checkpoints on crashes—a meta-analysis. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 41(5), 914–923. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457509001067?via%3Dihubexternal icon
- Bergen, G., Pitan, A., Qu, S., Shults, R. A., Chattopadhyay, S. K., Elder, R. W., . . . Community Preventive Services Task Force. (2014). Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs: A community guide systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 46(5), 529–539. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379714000506?via%3Dihubexternal icon
- Community Preventive Services Task Force. (2014). Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs to reduce alcohol-impaired driving: Recommendation of the Community Preventive Services Task Force. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 46(5), 540–541. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379714000518?via%3Dihubexternal icon
- Morrison, C. N., Ferris, J., Wiebe, D. J., Peek-Asa, C., & Branas, C. C. (2019). Sobriety checkpoints and alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes at different temporal scales. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 56(6), 795–802. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379719300753external icon
- Morrison, C. N., Kwizera, M., Chen, Q., Puljevic, C., Branas, C. C., Wiebe, D. J., . . . Ferris, J. (2021). Alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes and the size and duration of random breath testing checkpoints. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 45(4), 784–792. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acer.14583external icon
- Fell, J., Langston, E. A., Lacey, J. H., Tippetts, A. S., & Cotton, R. (2008). Evaluation of seven publicized enforcement demonstration programs to reduce impaired driving: Georgia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, and Michigan (Report No. DOT HS 810 941). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/810941.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
- Fell, J. C., Ferguson, S. A., Williams, A. F., & Fields, M. (2003). Why are sobriety checkpoints not widely adopted as an enforcement strategy in the United States? Accident Analysis & Prevention, 35(6), 897–902. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457502000970external icon
- Erickson, D. J., Farbakhsh, K., Toomey, T. L., Lenk, K. M., Jones-Webb, R., & Nelson, T. F. (2015). Enforcement of alcohol-impaired driving laws in the United States: A national survey of state and local agencies. Traffic Injury Prevention, 16(6), 533–539. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429770/external icon
- Eichelberger, A. H., & McCartt, A. T. (2016). Impaired driving enforcement practices among state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States. Journal of Safety Research, 58, 41–47. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022437516300767external icon
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2017). Digest of impaired driving and selected beverage control laws; 30th edition: Current as of December 31, 2015. (Report No. DOT HS 812 394). Washington, DC: Author https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/812394-digest-of-impaired-driving-and-selected-beverage-control-laws.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
- Lacey, J. H., Ferguson, S. A., Kelley-Baker, T., & Rider, R. P. (2006). Low-manpower checkpoints: Can they provide effective DUI enforcement in small communities? Traffic Injury Prevention, 7(3), 213–218. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15389580600696686external icon
- Guide to Community Preventive Services. (2021). Motor vehicle injury – alcohol-impaired driving: Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/motor-vehicle-injury-alcohol-impaired-driving-publicized-sobriety-checkpoint-programsexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
- Fell, J., McKnight, A. S., & Auld-Owens, A. (2013). Increasing impaired-driving enforcement visibility: Six case studies. (Report No. DOT HS 811 716). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/811716.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
- Hedlund, J., & McCartt, A. (2002). Drunk driving: Seeking additional solutions. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety https://web.archive.org/web/20160417145110/https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/DrunkDriving-SeekingAdditionalSolutions.pdfpdf iconexternal icon.
- Governors Highway Safety Association. (2020, June 20). State laws by issue: Sobriety checkpoints. https://web.archive.org/web/20200620222406/http://www.ghsa.org/state-laws/issues/sobriety%20checkpointsexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 2009 traffic safety culture index. Washington, DC: Author https://aaafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2009TSCIndexReport.pdfpdf iconexternal icon.