Sobriety Checkpoints

State law on the use of sobriety checkpoints or roadblocks varies. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional as a general rule when they meet certain guidelines and procedures. The Court found a narcotics checkpoint did not meet the standard because the purpose of the checkpoint was general crime control rather than a specific purpose such as controlling the borders or reducing drunk driving.

State Sobriety Checkpoint Laws (May 2014) Governors Highway Safety Association
This resource provides a breakdown of state laws on the legality of sobriety checkpoints. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia permit sobriety checkpoints, while 12 states do not permit sobriety checkpoints. (Last updated June 2014)

Sobriety Checkpoints
Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz , 496 U.S. 444 (1990).

This case deals with guidelines setting forth procedures governing checkpoint operations, site selection, and publicity.

"In sum, the balance of the State's interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment."

Narcotics Checkpoints
City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000).

"Consistent with this suggestion, each of the checkpoint programs that we have approved was designed primarily to serve purposes closely related to the problems of policing the border or the necessity of ensuring roadway safety. Because the primary purpose of the Indianapolis narcotics checkpoint program is to uncover evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing, the program contravenes the Fourth Amendment."

NHTSA provides the following guidelines to assist jurisdictions in meeting constitutional standards for sobriety checkpoints. The Use of Sobriety Checkpoints for Impaired Driving Enforcement (1990):

  • Ongoing Program to Deter Impaired Driving
  • Judicial Support
  • Existing Departmental Policy
  • Site Selection
  • Special Warning Devices
  • Visible Police Authority
  • Chemical Testing Logistics
  • Contingency Planning
  • Detection and Investigation Techniques
  • Operational Briefings
  • Comprehensive Public Information and Education Programs
  • Data Collection and Evaluation

Other Resources

Evaluation of the Checkpoint Strikeforce Program (November 2008) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Checkpoint Strikeforce is a NHTSA regionwide DWI enforcement program implemented in NHTSA’s Mid-Atlantic Region (Region 3) comprised of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The program emphasizes frequent, well publicized checkpoints implemented on a sustained basis throughout the July–to-December period of each calendar year. The program was initiated in 2002 and continues. This report presents the evaluation results for the first three years of the program from 2002 to 2004.

Low Staffing Sobriety Checkpoints National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - This document will provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on how to adequately coordinate the planning, operation, data collection, and actions of conducting low-staffing sobriety checkpoints.

Kanable, Rebecca.”Protecting America’s Roadways High-Visibility DUI Enforcement.” 75 Law Enforcement Bulletin 11 (November 2006). – By recognizing that drunk driving laws need high-visibility enforcement and making prevention a priority, officers can protect America’s roadways.

Lacey, J.H., S.A. Ferguson, T. Kelley-Baker, and R.P. Rider, “Low-Manpower Checkpoints: Can They Provide Effective DUI Enforcement in Small Communities?” Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (March 2005). – When well publicized, sobriety checkpoints can be a highly effective means to reduce alcohol-impaired driving and its associated crashes. Studies have shown that checkpoints can be conducted successfully and safely with as few as three to five officers. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the impact of conducting small-scale checkpoints in rural communities on impaired driving and perception of enforcement.

Mulligan, Ann. City of Indianapolis v. Edmond: The Constitutionality of Drug Interdiction Checkpoints The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (2003).

Saturation Patrols & Sobriety Checkpoints: A How-To Guide for Implementing and Publicizing Impaired Driving Enforcement Efforts (October 2002) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - This document discusses some of the best practices for curtailing impaired driving.