A saturation patrol (also called a blanket patrol or dedicated DWI patrol) consists of a large number of law enforcement officers patrolling a specific area looking for impaired drivers. These patrols usually take place at times and locations where impaired-driving crashes commonly occur. Like publicized sobriety checkpoint programs, the primary purpose of publicized saturation patrol programs is to deter driving after drinking by increasing the perceived risk of arrest. To do this, saturation patrols should be publicized extensively and conducted regularly, as part of an ongoing program. NHTSA provides resources on HVE (NHTSA, 2021a). NHTSA strongly recommends that officers conducting these activities be trained in SFST.
Saturation patrols are a widely used approach to address alcohol-impaired driving. A national survey reported that 63% of local law enforcement agencies and 96% of State patrol agencies reported conducting saturation patrols (Erickson et al., 2015).
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of saturation patrols separate from other efforts (e.g., sobriety checkpoints). Sobriety checkpoints are prohibited by State law in Michigan. A statewide campaign was conducted from 2002 to 2004 that included weekly saturation patrols, an extensive public information campaign including paid media, and community partnerships. Alcohol-related fatalities per 100 million VMT decreased 18% following the campaign, and the percentage of fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers decreased somewhat relative to neighboring States (Fell, Langston, et al., 2008). Although more research is needed, the experience of Michigan suggests that saturation patrols can be effective in reducing alcohol-related fatal crashes when accompanied by extensive publicity.
The main costs are for law enforcement time and for publicity. Saturation patrol operations are quite flexible in both the number of officers required and the time that each officer participates in the patrol. As with sobriety checkpoints, publicity can be costly if paid media is used.
Time to implement:
Saturation patrols can be implemented within 3 months if officers are trained in detecting impaired drivers and in SFST. See the NHTSA HVE toolkit for implementation information.
- Legality: Saturation patrols are legal in all jurisdictions.
- Publicity: As with sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols should be highly visible and publicized extensively to be effective in deterring impaired driving. Communication and enforcement plans should be coordinated. Messages should clearly and unambiguously support enforcement. Paid media may be necessary to complement social media, news stories and other earned media, especially in a continuing saturation patrol program (Goodwin et al., 2005).