Articles on South Carolina Law

DUI Checkpoints: Do They Make the Roads Safer?

by | Feb 6, 2019 | Criminal Defense, DUI

In South Carolina each year, thousands of drivers are charged with DUI — driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or some other substance that impairs judgment. It’s natural to think that many of these arrests come as a result of DUI checkpoints, and that these checkpoints are making the roads safer for drivers that obey the laws. But, are they really?

Recovering from a DUI can be a long and often costly road for anyone charged with the crime, as evidenced by the number of steps in the DUI process. Despite so many people arrested for DUI each year, road safety may not actually be improving, which raises the question: Do DUI checkpoints actually work?

Alcohol and Road Safety

According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, 29% of fatal roadway accidents involved an impaired driver in 2017. In the same year, over 10,000 drivers were killed as a result of accidents as a result of drunk or impaired drivers on the road. These are the types of numbers that DUI checkpoints are attempting to lower, but are they having any success at all?

First, we need to understand exactly what DUI checkpoints are.

DUI checkpoints (also known as sobriety checkpoints) are places where local or state law enforcement set up one or more police vehicles on a roadway and correspond with drivers that come through the checkpoint. Law enforcement may detain people at these roadside stops. If they suspect someone is driving while impaired, the detained time may involve field sobriety tests or may be as simple as a few questions to screen for any potential impairment.

DUI checkpoints may occur most on heavily trafficked roads, in places where the police know that people would have a difficult time avoiding as they travel to and from their activities. They also occur more often on nights where heavy drinking and drug use are common, such as weekends or certain holidays including New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.

But do they work?

According to a 4-year study of statewide sobriety checkpoints, a local news agency found some pretty damning results for these checkpoints, each of which cost police departments around $5,000 to operate per night:

Over 4 years over 91,000 vehicles were recorded going through DUI checkpoints. Less than 1 percent were stopped for DUI, and drivers were stopped for infractions other than DUI.

Some people who believe in the effectiveness of these checkpoints claim that they’re deterrents to drunk drivers, but if drivers know where they are ahead of time, they’re less likely to be deterred by them and more likely to find an alternate route to wherever they’re going.

So, Do DUI Checkpoints Work?

We should note, that there some components to DUI checkpoints that limit their ability to accomplish their goals of making the roads safer. The following are issues that make us question the efficacy of the costly programs:

DUI Arrests

The benefit of a DUI checkpoint is getting drunk and impaired drivers off the road immediately. This makes the roadways safer, at least on the time of day that these drivers were pulled over, but there are some issues that may limit the effect of this.

While DUI arrests have an enormous effect on the life of the person cited — take the DUI fines and penalties in South Carolina as an example — they aren’t actually shown to rehabilitate chronic drunk drivers that much.

For example, an NBC article explores one family’s life-changing interaction with a repeat offender of DUI. Even after the person being discussed had impaired driving incidents that resulted in the death of other parties in a crash, he was released from custody. A study cited in the article claims that 70 percent of repeat drunk drivers won’t be deterred from driving by losing their license as the result of a DUI arrest.

DUI Checkpoint Locators

DUI checkpoints send a bad message to the law-abiding public. Effectively, if you’re stopped by local law enforcement to check if you’ve been drinking, it signals that officials don’t trust the public and can result in some seriously bad PR for the police departments. This wouldn’t matter if DUI checkpoints were proven to result in a high number of drunk driving arrests, but they aren’t, so is it really worth it?

Another issue facing officers today is the emergence of checkpoint locator apps on the market. When they come across a checkpoint, people report the location on an app to let other drivers know to avoid it. The stated goal of these apps is to “limit inconvenience” for everyday drivers, but can also be used by drunk drivers to avoid opportunities to be arrested.

Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?

There are a few ways in which DUI checkpoints are operated with questionable legality:

Fourth Amendment Concerns

The fourth amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, which applies to traffic stops made without what a court deems “reasonable suspicion.” Some argue that since traffic stops at sobriety checkpoints happen without regard to reasonable suspicion or probable case, the police cannot possibly have grounds to legally run these operations.

State Laws

While the US Supreme Court has allowed DUI checkpoints to occur across the country, some state courts have decided that these traffic stops are unconstitutional. States in which DUI checkpoints are not legal are:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In SC, checkpoints are legal as long as they fall within the parameters and requirements required, such as which cars will be stopped, notice of the checkpoints to the public, and proper record keeping of these checkpoints by law enforcement.

Getting Legal Assistance

If you’ve been stopped at a DUI checkpoint and/or are facing a DUI charge, it is your right to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.

Maybe you know you were in the wrong and maybe you weren’t: both cases need an experienced DUI lawyer in SC to help you sort out the aftermath of your arrest.

You may have options you don’t know about, and no matter how you plan to approach your circumstance in court, an attorney who handles DUI’s can help you understand your options when navigating the justice system in South Carolina.

If you or someone you know are facing a DUI charge, reach out to Susan and her team Law Office of Susan E. Williams. Her team includes a retired police officer that made DUI arrests in the Town of Summerville.

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