What good are DUI checkpoints if people can find out in advance where they are? Surely, if the Google Waze app points out where the checkpoints are, drunk drivers will use the app simply to avoid them, right?
That’s the argument being made by the New York Police Department over Google’s Waze app. Although the app doesn’t actually allow users to mark the location of sobriety checkpoints, it does allow people to note the location of police officers with detailed notes. The NYPD has asked Google to disable that feature on the app and threatened to “pursue all legal remedies” available to stop Waze users from sharing “this irresponsible and dangerous information.” It’s unclear what remedies might actually be available.
But let’s step back for a moment. Are the locations of DUI checkpoints actually secret? We can’t speak for New York, but here in Tennessee, those locations are usually advertised in advance. This is intentional, and it is thought to make the checkpoints even more effective.
“We want these things publicized,” points out the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “One of the major efforts is education.”
She added that, in her experience, impaired drivers are often confused by or even unaware of the DUI checkpoints they encounter. It may be that intoxication would make it difficult to use the Waze app to avoid sobriety checkpoints.
“If you are impaired, you are not going to pay attention to that information,” she told the New York Times.
Furthermore, there is a persuasive argument that sobriety checkpoints that aren’t announced in advance violate drivers’ Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, in some circumstances.
Sobriety checkpoints are generally legal if all drivers, or randomly selected drivers, are pulled over. However, if the cars to be pulled over are chosen arbitrarily or contextually, the checkpoint may not pass constitutional muster.
Courts balance the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving with the intrusiveness of the seizure (the traffic stop). The fact that the checkpoint was advertised in advance would weigh on the side of it being held legal.
The main purpose of sobriety checkpoints is not to increase DUI arrests but to reduce drunk driving. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are quite effective: they reduce the risk of drunk driving accidents by 20 percent.
If you were arrested for DUI at a sobriety checkpoint, you should immediately call an experienced DUI lawyer. It may be possible to argue that the checkpoint was not operated legally, and you may have other possible defenses available.