Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, football, and feasting. But while youre busy enjoying Americas founding, many police officers are busy with sobriety checkpoints. Unfortunately, checkpoints do a terrible job finding those who had a few too many glasses of wine with their turkey and stuffing and they distract police from finding dangerous drivers on our nations roadways.
Skeptical? The numbers speak for themselves. Consider that over a million vehicles went through 1,469 California sobriety checkpoints in 2008. Police arrested just one-third of 1 percent of those motorists for drunk driving. A similar analysis found that in 2007, less than one percent of the more than 181,000 drivers stopped at Pennsylvania checkpoints were arrested.
Instead of inefficiently stopping every car on the road in the elusive hunt for drunk drivers, roving patrols stand a better chance at getting dangerous driversbe they distracted or drunkoff the streets.
Roving, or saturation, patrols consist of police officers driving around to actively seek out drunk and dangerous drivers instead of passively waiting at a roadblock for drunk drivers to come to them. Patrols are up to 10 times more effective than checkpoints, according to testimony by a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation official.
The problem with checkpoints is that theyre easy to avoid. These roadblocks are highly visible by design and publicized well in advance (a requirement in many states). Friends can text warnings to each other. GPS and iPhone applications even alert users to checkpoint locations. Supporters of checkpoints will tell you that they deter drunk drivers, but its an impossible point to prove: Its too easy for chronic drunk drivers to take a different course in an effort to avoid them.
These exercises in futility are extremely expensive. Checkpoints can cost over $10,000 each time theyre set up, compared to $300 for each roving patrol.
If we want to develop a cost-effective strategy, well defund checkpoints and beef up roving patrol efforts. In addition to stopping drunk drivers, patrols also catch drivers engaging in any number of other dangerous activities, like reckless speeding, aggressive driving, and texting while driving.
Statistics show that talking on a cell phone, driving while drowsy, and traveling a mere 7 mph above the speed limit are all riskier than driving with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.08 percent, the legal arrest threshold for drunk driving.
Lets put it this way: A driver made drowsy from Tryptophan in turkey will pass muster at a checkpoint but get caught nodding off by a roving patrol.
Unfortunately, sobriety checkpoints wont catch people guilty of Driving While Intoxicated by Turkey. What they will do is waste taxpayer dollars, inconvenience thousands of responsible drivers, and fail to stop the most dangerous chronic drunk drivers.
Sarah Longwell is the Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute (ABI) in Washington, D.C.