Many of us have had our nights delayed by DUI checkpoints. What many people do not realize is that these DUI checkpoints in California are announced ahead of time. Some people scope out the internet to find routes to avoid before going out so they can avoid DUI checkpoint locations.
So, why announce DUI checkpoints ahead of time? This is a question that tons of people ask. Doesn’t it help drunk drivers get away with driving drunk? The answer is much more complicated than that.
Court Ruling Regarding Announcing DUI Checkpoints
The main reason why law enforcement agencies announce when and where they plan to place DUI checkpoints is because they are legally required to do so.
In 1990, the concept of DUI checkpoints was legally challenged on the basis that they violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that checkpoints were only constitutional if the public was made aware of them ahead of time.
Therefore, not publicizing the locations of DUI checkpoints is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and any evidence obtained at a checkpoint would not be legally permitted in court.
The reason why DUI checkpoints exist is not to actually arrest drunk drivers. In fact, arrests are not very common at DUI checkpoints for many reasons. So why do law enforcement agencies continue to conduct DUI checkpoints when they’re not likely to result in many arrests? Isn’t this expensive?
Well, the other main reason for announcing DUI checkpoints ahead of time is how their simple existence can deter people from drunk driving. Let’s say you’re about ready to head out for a night of drinking with your friends. You may be the designated driver, but you plan to have a drink or two anyways. “I’ll be fine,” you think to yourself.
Unfortunately, most people are not “fine” after having a few drinks, and California wants these types of people off public roads. So, if you’re getting ready for a night out and you see on the news or on your Facebook feed that cops have set up a DUI checkpoint at the intersection near the bar you plan to visit, you will probably think twice about having a drink or two. You may decide to stay in for the night or you may plan to drink water while your friends enjoy alcoholic beverages. Either way, California law enforcement has achieved its goal of having less drunk drivers on the road.
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The other main reason for announcing DUI checkpoints ahead of time is for law enforcement agencies and MADD (who are often out at checkpoints “assisting” or whatever they call it) to get grant money for conducting “grant funded enforcement”during “grant funded enforcement periods.”
The existence of DUI checkpoints doesn’t help public safety. In fact, one can argue that nowadays, DUI checkpoints may actually endanger public safety. How? As the article mentions, DUI checkpoints must be announced ahead of time (I’ve seen these announcements — often in a small, light-colored font, buried deep within a State Patrol or County Sheriff website. In Colorado where I live, checkpoints are always on a Friday, starting time is 9pm, and always are conducted on a state-numbered road so the State Patrol can get its grant money.)
Sometimes, I check the cellphone app, Waze, to see if checkpoints are actually being conducted according to the announcements. Waze relies on its users to report police (visible or hidden) and where I live, it hasn’t missed a checkpoint yet.
So, how does all of this relate to endangering public safety? I don’t have statistics to cite, but it seems logical that any genuine drunk driver would preplan their evening, carefully selecting a checkpoint-free route to and from their destination. Relieved of the possibility of encountering a checkpoint, they likely would indulge in several drinks more than if they were concerned about an encounter with law enforcement. If they consumed enough EtOH to be genuinely dangerous behind the wheel, public safety would thus be endangered by the existence of that evening’s DUI checkpoints.