DUI Roadblocks, coyly referred to as 'checkpoints', have become commonplace in Illinois since the United States Supreme Court first approved of them back in 1990. This labor day weekend, tens of thousands of innocent motorists in Illinois will be stopped by police in the name of fighting drunk driving. But is that necessary?
For those unfamiliar with the concept, these roadblocks are generally planned in advance by police chiefs and supervisors, where a particular location is then chosen. They are then staffed with up to two dozen patrol officers and other workers, who go through a procedure meeting, and then cones and lighting equipment, along with signs and other equipment, are laid out.
Through the course of an evening, hundreds of motorists are stopped, questioned about where they are coming from, and then asked to produce their license and insurance for inspection. Police will circle the vehicle looking for equipment violations and to see if there are any items of interest inside the vehicle in plain view.
If a motorist is suspected of drinking, they are removed from the vehicle and submitted to a series of field sobriety tests, which often includes a portable breath test. If they fail, they are arrested for DUI.
These roadblocks often run from 9pm to 2am. The number of cars stopped can varies from one out of a certain number, to every vehicle, depending on the site supervisors decision regarding traffic and other factors.
Statistically, less than 1% of the drivers are arrested for DUI - how many of those are in fact guilty of DUI would of course be even less than that. Thousands of dollars are spent in man hours, overtime, equipment and planning to run the roadblocks. The police departments receives partial funding through federal taxmoney distributed by IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation).
Aside from general liberty concerns, many people question the effectiveness of roadblocks generally. The US Supreme Court opinion approving roadblocks stated that police acknowledged that more drunk drivers can be caught through less expensive means, such as saturation patrols. “The then sheriffs of Macomb County, Kalamazoo County, and Wayne County all testified as to other means used in their counties to combat drunk driving and as to their respective opinions that other methods currently in use, e.g., patrol cars, were more effective means of combating drunk driving and utilizing law enforcement resources than sobriety checkpoints.” 170 Mich.App. 433, 443, 429 N.W.2d 180, 184 (1988). Greene, J. (2003). Battling DUI: A Comparative Analysis of Checkpoints and Saturation Patrols. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 72(1): 1-6 Statistically, saturation patrols uses two or three officers instead of two or three dozen, and catch 5 or 6 times as many drunk drivers. Saturation patrols are legal in all 50 states, and do not present many legal issues beyond those associated with routine traffic stops.
And the deterrent effect of roadblocks has also been questioned. “Maryland had conducted a study comparing traffic statistics between a county using checkpoints and a control county. The results of the study showed that alcohol-related accidents in the checkpoint county decreased by ten percent, whereas the control county saw an eleven percent decrease; and while fatal accidents in the control county fell from sixteen to three, fatal accidents in the checkpoint county actually doubled from the prior year.” 170 Mich.App. 433, 443, 429 N.W.2d 180,
The reality is, there is only a certain amount of funds that can be used for combatting the problem of DUI. Saturation patrols, public education, and public transportation appears to be a far less expensive, and far more effective use of funds than the use of roadblocks.
For additional questions or information on DUI roadblocks in Illinois, visit Donald Ramsell's website.
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