Checkpoints are a common method used by police to address drunk driving. While this approach is popular within MADD circles (see the MADD FAQ on sobriety checkpoints for their perspective), there are some concerns that you may not have heard.
First and foremost, checkpoints infringe on a basic constitutional right. Under the Fourth Amendment, we are supposed to be free from unreasonable search and seizures. The US Supreme Court addressed this in 1990 in the case of Michigan v. Sitz, ruling that checkpoints are permitted. The Court did not go into detail on what the limits are on such checkpoints.
A second concern most don’t consider is the impact of these checkpoints on everyone. In that Michigan case, only 1% of stops led to arrests. That means stopping 100 people for every arrest. Those one hundred people endure flashlights shone in their eyes, and other police behavior that many find intimidating. And of the one percent arrested, there is no indication of how many were innocent.
I remember one checkpoint I encountered was unsafe. The police were on the backside of a hill on a freeway ramp (at the start of the I-87 Northway for traffic coming from Route 20 eastbound). As I was approaching the hill the car in front of me suddenly hit their brakes hard as they became aware of the checkpoint.
Drunk driving is dangerous. But the efforts to stop drunk driving have consequences too.