Do Sobriety Checkpoints Work?

By Peter DePaolis

Drunk driving claims thousands of American lives each year. According to the non-profit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD):

  • 10,839 people die in drunk-driving accidents annually in the United States, or one person every 50 minutes
  • One out of three people will be involved in an alcohol-related car accident during his or her lifetime
  • The average drunk driver has driven under the influence 87 times before being arrested for the first time

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that 1,253 of the drivers involved in fatal car accidents in 2009 had previous DWI convictions. Nationwide in 2009, 15.4 percent of the drivers involved in fatal car accidents were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, compared to 10.8 percent in Washington, D.C., 12.4 percent in Maryland, and 2.8 percent in Virginia. According to FARS data for 2009, drunk driving resulted in the deaths of 29 people in Washington, D.C., 547 people in Maryland, and 757 people in Virginia. Victims of drunk drivers can turn to an experienced Washington, D.C. personal injury attorney for help protecting their legal rights.

Do Sobriety Checkpoints Prevent Drunk Driving?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that since 1994, about one-third of all fatally injured drivers have had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or above, .08 being the legal limit in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The IIHS estimates that 7,440 deaths could have been prevented in 2009 had all drivers’ BACs been below .08 and believes sobriety checkpoints are an effective means of catching drunk drivers and deterring people from driving under the influence.

According to the IIHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that well-publicized sobriety checkpoints reduce alcohol-related car accidents by about 20 percent. Currently, 38 states and Washington, D.C. use sobriety checkpoints, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), though the number and frequency of checkpoints vary significantly by state. The GHSA reports that checkpoints are conducted weekly in Maryland and Virginia and once or twice a month in Washington, D.C.

Safety Agencies Advocate the Use of Sobriety Checkpoints

Both the NHTSA and the IIHS support the regular use of sobriety checkpoints nationwide. In its Aug. 18, 2011, issue of the newsletter Status Report, the IIHS says sobriety checkpoints should be used more widely as an effective means of preventing drunk driving. According to the IIHS, “If checkpoints are held often over long enough periods and are well-publicized, motorists assume the police are cracking down on impaired drivers, even if other enforcement hasn’t been stepped up. This helps to dissuade people from driving after drinking.”

While sobriety checkpoints may not catch or deter all drunk drivers, research shows they do in fact help. As drunk driving continues to be an issue around the country, victims of drunk drivers can contact a qualified Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyer to fight for the financial compensation they need to get back on their feet.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.