DUI and DWI arrests are all too common charges that affect the community at large. To counter those drivers intent on drinking and driving, police set up sobriety checkpoint programs.
The Ineffectiveness of DUI Checkpoints
However, even though the Supreme Court ruling on Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz confirmed their legality, sobriety checkpoints have remained a hotbed of dispute, the eternal question repeatedly examined: Do they work?
Frequency of Practice
While Nevada, 37 other states and the District of Columbia all use sobriety checkpoints, 12 other states do not: Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming either prohibit them or simply don’t use them.
As a participant, Nevada has established legal guidelines for sobriety checkpoints, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) typically arranges two DUI checkpoints a month.
Number of Arrests at DUI Checkpoints
How many impaired drivers do the checkpoints catch? Six available LVMPD press releases citing DUI checkpoint results documented a total of 17,095 vehicles that passed through the six checkpoints. Of those, fewer than 1 percent – 0.58 percent, in fact – yielded a driver under the influence:
- November 26, 2014 – Thanksgiving, 1,936 vehicles, 7 DUI arrests.
- February 1, 2015 – Super Bowl Sunday, 1,523 vehicles, 28 DUI arrests.
- April 1, 2015 – 1,338 vehicles, 13 DUI arrests.
- June 4, 2015 – End of School, 2,333 vehicles, 13 DUI arrests.
- October 15, 2015 – 3,979 vehicles, 19 DUI arrests.
- November 18, 2015 – 5,986 vehicles, 19 DUI arrests.
That figure of 0.58 percent translates into a need to vet at least 173 cars to make one DUI arrest. If you remove the outlier data – February’s Super Bowl Sunday numbers – the rate drops to 0.45 percent, resulting in the more likely need to stop 223 cars to make one DUI arrest.
Keep in mind, too, that no result reports were released for at least another 10 sobriety checkpoints conducted during this time frame.
This problem is not unique to the LVMPD. Google “sobriety checkpoint results” or “DWI or DUI checkpoint results,” and assorted police department press releases list operation after operation across the country.
From Fairfax County in Virginia, with 687 vehicles stopped and three DUI arrests in October 2014, to Escondido in California, with 2,368 vehicles stopped and two resulting DUI arrests in August of this year.
Are DUI Checkpoint Operations Cost-Effective?
Initially, the response is defense of the efforts due to a need for safety, but sobriety checkpoint operations are costly. Average estimates for sobriety checkpoints place dollar figures between $8,000 and $10,000. Averaging the number of personnel at the checkpoint – 32 – and applying the typical 8-hour duration and average pay for a LVMPD officer, those checkpoints might actually cost about $11,000 each. The issue goes well beyond Las Vegas or even Nevada, however.
In the Nevada Department of Public Safety’s Annual Performance Report, in 2012, the state received $2,361,717 in Section 410 funds. This is national grant funding that must be used for high-visibility law enforcement campaigns against DUI – either sobriety checkpoints or saturation patrols. By 2014, however, the figure was less than half of that – $1,093,874 – but the practice of at least twice-monthly checkpoints remains; that’s at least $20,000 a month or $240,000 a year for LVMPD sobriety checkpoints alone.
In contrast, the equally approved saturation, or roving, patrols cost a fraction of what checkpoints do – a mere estimated $300 per patrol. They may also be more effective at arresting impaired drivers. A study released in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin titled “Battling DUI: A Comparative Analysis of Checkpoints and Saturation Patrols” stated, “Saturation patrols may afford a more effective means of detecting repeat offenders, who are likely to avoid detection at sobriety checkpoints.”
Sobriety Checkpoints Are Obvious to Drivers
Even so, the fact remains that Nevada and Las Vegas regularly set up sobriety checkpoints. However, the same laws that allow the checkpoints also specify certain requirements for law enforcement that make their checkpoints obvious. According to NRS 484B.570, the checkpoint must:
- Be clearly visible to approaching traffic from at least 100 yards in either direction.
- Have at its entrance a STOP sign placed near the road’s center line. The sign must be clearly visible and easily readable at 50 yards at any hour.
- Have at its entrance at least one red flashing light at the side of the highway. The light must be clearly visible to oncoming traffic at 100 yards.
- Have clearly visible and easily readable signs at the side of the highway warning that a police stop is ahead. Each sign must have a light near it to attract attention, and the signs must be no less than 700 feet from the roadblock entrance in an urban area and at least one-quarter of a mile from the entrance in a rural area.
The law states that drivers must obey police officers’ orders at checkpoints, and penalties for failing to stop can be stiff. If you harm anyone or damage property in excess of $1,000, you may face a category B felony – 1 to 6 years in state prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Even if you don’t harm anyone or anything, you’ll still face a gross misdemeanor charge, up to a year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. However, avoiding the checkpoint entirely is possible and often the preferred option even for sober drivers who just don’t want the hassle or the wait.
Publicity and Social Media Have Increased Awareness
Sobriety checkpoints in Nevada are not only highly visible but also often publicized in advance. The LVMPD announced all of the above-listed checkpoint operations in advance in press releases, in most cases identifying locations and hours of operation.
In addition, companies like DUIBlock.com have developed apps that will alert subscribers of checkpoints through text messages or email, some complete with maps. Even without those alerts, social media, texting and emails among social circles usually spread the news far and wide.
Staying Within the Law When Confronted by a DUI Checkpoint
Once you enter a sobriety checkpoint zone, you’re committed to going through. However, if you see the roadblock well in advance and have an available, legal detour option, such as an intersecting road, you can take it. Keep in mind that you cannot create a traffic hazard. U-turns or other poorly timed cross-traffic movements that interfere with oncoming vehicles are not viable choices.
If you do have to stop at a sobriety checkpoint, be prepared for officers to check your car for evidence of alcohol in open containers or controlled substances, such as marijuana. They may ask you a number of questions to determine your sobriety.
If in doubt, they may administer National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration-approved field sobriety tests: the walk and turn; one-leg stand; and horizontal gaze nystagmus test, also known as the pen test. You do have the right to refuse such tests, but implied consent allows the officer to pursue a test of your breath, blood or urine to determine impairment levels.
Arrested at a Checkpoint? Call Marchiano Law 702-565-0473
Facing charges of driving under the influence is a sobering challenge. While the established threshold for alcohol impairment is typically 0.08, even if your blood alcohol level is under that, you can still be arrested for DUI. The State of Nevada can revoke your driver’s license, assess hefty fines, and impose prison sentences, using prior convictions to increase penalties. If you are arrested for DUI, we may be able to help. Don’t let a sobriety checkpoint end your holiday at any time of the year. Drive safe. Drive smart, and put our number in your smartphone just in case.