More Drunk Drivers Now That Missouri Will Lose DUI Checkpoints?

DUI checkpointThe landscape of drunk driving enforcement is about to change in Missouri. For 13 years law enforcement has conducted DUI checkpoints to keep down the number of drunk drivers on the road. At a DUI, or sobriety, checkpoint a police officer stops vehicles and checks for inebriated drivers. The passage by the Missouri Legislature of House Bill 4 slashes the funding for such checkpoints to one dollar.

A Controversial Measure That Works

DUI checkpoints have been controversial – some states do not allow them – but there is no doubt that they prevent alcohol-related road fatalities. The controversy stems from the constitutionality of stopping cars at random and interrogating drivers. The Supreme Court has ruled that sobriety checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The other controversy is less rooted in fact. Some believe that saturation patrols, in which police roam the roads looking for drunk drivers, are more effective than checkpoints. True, patrols can identify drunk drivers, but they are much less effective at deterrence. Hundreds or even thousands of drivers will pass a DUI checkpoint on a given evening; all of them will think twice about drinking and driving. Saturation patrols are not as visible as checkpoints, and thus are not as good a deterrent.

It’s also worth noting that the liquor and hospitality industries tend to lobby against checkpoints, since the discourage patrons from ordering drinks – which is a sign that the checkpoints are effective in keeping drivers more sober.

Road Safety Organizations: Missouri Blew It

The Centers for Disease Control found in a 2002 meta-study that   “checkpoints reduced alcohol-related fatal, injury, and property damage crashes each by about 20 percent.” Their research has been quoted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which considers the passage of S.B. 4 and the cutting of checkpoint funding a setback for the state.

A lack of checkpoints does not mean that Missouri is going to experience a drunk driving free-for-all. The state has a strong ignition interlock law which requires all DUI offenders, including first offenders, to install the device if they want to regain driving privileges. Ignition interlocks have been proven to reduce alcohol-related collisions when used consistently.

Next year’s drunk driving numbers – arrests, crashes, deaths – will start to tell us something about the effectiveness of saturation patrols vs. DUI checkpoints. Let’s hope the news is good.