DUI checkpoints: they look good on the news

In Tennessee, drunk driving prevention is an important function of the state’s law enforcement agencies. So important that some employees of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) have alleged there is an unwritten requirement that troopers make a certain number of DUI arrests every year.

One public relations difficulty with DUI stops and arrests is that they typically are solo affairs, with one trooper stopping an arresting a single driver. This means awareness is limited to that driver and his or her immediate family. The THP and other law enforcement want to be seen as “doing something” about the problem and while they aggregate the numbers at the end of the year, statistical tables do not always make the most compelling presentation.

Perhaps this explains the attraction of DUI checkpoints. While they are generally ineffective at catching drunk drivers, they provide an image for the evening news, with lots of troopers moving about officiously, police vehicles, flashing lights and orange cones.

It creates a very Hollywood scene, and provides the impression that law enforcement is taking action and serious about stopping drunk drivers. As a spokesperson for the American Beverage Institute, “sobriety checkpoints are actually a lousy way to crack down on drunk driving.”

Police point to the publicity of the checkpoints as being a reason for the 57 percent decrease in alcohol-related crash fatalities in Chattanooga last year, but conveniently its an assertion that would be virtually impossible to prove by evidence.

With social media and phone apps now providing virtually real time information on the location of these checkpoints, the question becomes do they really stop drunk driving, just provide an incentive to drive a different route?

Source:, “Lawmen back checkpoints to catch DUIs in greater Chattanooga area,” Will Healey, May 23, 2015

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