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At sobriety checkpoints, law enforcement officers stop vehicles at predetermined locations to investigate whether drivers are impaired. They either stop every vehicle or stop vehicles at some regular interval, such as every third or tenth vehicle. Although sobriety checkpoints remove impaired drivers from road, the primary purpose of checkpoints is to deter driving after drinking among the general population by increasing the perceived risk of being caught and arrested. To do this, checkpoints must be highly visible, publicized extensively, and conducted regularly, as part of an ongoing sobriety checkpoint program. Fell et al. (2004) provide an overview of checkpoint operations, use, effectiveness, and issues. See Fell, McKnight, and Auld-Owens (2013) for a detailed description of 6 HVE programs in the United States, including enforcement strategies, visibility elements, use of media, funding, and many other issues. NHTSA (2021a) provides resources and further details on HVE.

The public generally supports sobriety checkpoints. In a representative survey of 2,000 U.S. drivers, two-thirds (65%) were in favor of conducting sobriety checkpoints at least monthly (Fell, 2019b).


Thirty-eight States and the District of Columbia permit sobriety checkpoints as part of their impaired-driving enforcement, but they vary how regularly they are conducted (FAAR, 2022). Some States prohibit the use of checkpoints. Erickson et al. (2015) conducted a survey of 48 State patrol agencies and 1,082 local law enforcement agencies across the United States about their enforcement activities during 2010 and 2011. In those States where checkpoints were permitted by State law, 97% of State patrol agencies and 55% of local law enforcement agencies reported conducting sobriety checkpoints. In a separate survey of the State Highway Safety Offices, 11 out of 50 reported checkpoints were conducted on a weekly basis somewhere in their States (Fell et al., 2003). The main reasons cited for not using checkpoints more frequently were lack of law enforcement personnel and lack of funding. See the Cost section below for possible solutions to these issues.


The CDC’s systematic review of 15 high-quality studies found that checkpoints reduce alcohol-related fatal crashes by 9% (Bergen et al., 2014). Similarly, a meta-analysis found checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by 17%, and all crashes by 10 to 15% (Erke et al., 2009). Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs are proven effective in reducing alcohol-related crashes among high-risk populations including males and drivers 21 to 34 years old (Bergen et al., 2014).

Research suggests that high-visibility sobriety checkpoints deter drinking and driving in a community for approximately one week. A study of sobriety checkpoints in Los Angeles, California from 2013 to 2017 found fewer alcohol-related crashes during the week after DWI enforcement took place, but effects did not persist beyond one week (Morrison et al., 2019). Consequently, sobriety checkpoints need to take place regularly in a community—ideally on a weekly basis. In addition to numerous checkpoints or other highly visible impaired-driving enforcement operations, intensive publicity of the enforcement activities is critical, including paid advertising (Fell, Langston, et al., 2008). Programs with lower levels of enforcement and publicity do not demonstrate reduced crashes or fatalities. See also NHTSA’s Strategic Evaluation States initiative (NHTSA, 2007; Syner et al., 2008), NHTSA’s evaluation of Checkpoint Strikeforce program (Lacey et al., 2008), and evaluation of the national Labor Day holiday campaign: Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest (Solomon et al., 2008).


The main costs are for law enforcement time and for publicity. A typical checkpoint using 15 or more officers can cost $5,000 to $7,000 (Robertson & Holmes, 2011). However, law enforcement costs can be reduced by operating checkpoints with smaller teams of 3 to 5 officers (NHTSA, 2006b; Stuster & Blowers, 1995). Law enforcement agencies in two rural West Virginia counties were able to sustain a year-long program of weekly low-staff checkpoints. The proportion of nighttime drivers with BACs of .05 g/dL and higher was 70% lower in these counties compared to drivers in comparison counties that did not operate additional checkpoints (Lacey et al., 2006). These smaller checkpoints can be conducted for as little as $500 to $1,500 (Maistros et al., 2014). NHTSA has a guidebook available to assist law enforcement agencies in planning, operating, and evaluating low-staff sobriety checkpoints (NHTSA, 2006b). Another possible solution is to combine resources with other agencies. A survey by Eichelberger and McCartt (2016) found that 40% of agencies that conducted checkpoints reported pooling resources with other law enforcement agencies.

Checkpoint publicity can be costly if paid media is used. For the Checkpoint Strikeforce program, paid media budgets ranged from $25,000 in West Virginia to $433,000 in Maryland (Fell, McKnight, & Auld-Owens, 2013). Publicity for checkpoints should also include earned and social media. Other, less-costly elements to increase visibility of enforcement include electronic message boards, pop-up road signs, specially marked squads, and other tools (NHTSA, 2021a).

Time to implement:

Sobriety checkpoints can be implemented very quickly if officers are trained in detecting impaired drivers, SFSTs, and checkpoint operational procedures.

Other considerations:

  • Legality: Checkpoints are not conducted in 13 States. In 10 of these -- Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- checkpoints are prohibited by State law, State constitution, or interpretation of the State law (FAAR, 2022). In Missouri checkpoints are authorized by law but the State budget prohibits funding checkpoint activities. States where checkpoints are not permitted may use other enforcement strategies such as saturation patrols (see the next countermeasure).

  • Visibility: To deter alcohol-impaired driving among the general public, checkpoints must be highly visible and publicized extensively. Communication and enforcement plans should be coordinated. Messages should clearly and unambiguously support enforcement. Paid media may be necessary to complement news stories and other earned media, especially in a continuing checkpoint program. See Fell, McKnight, & Auld-Owens (2013) for additional recommendations concerning checkpoint visibility.

  • Combining checkpoints with other activities: To enhance the visibility of their law enforcement operations, some jurisdictions combine checkpoints with other activities such as saturation patrols and enforcement of open container laws. For example, some law enforcement agencies conduct both checkpoints and saturation patrols during the same weekend. Others alternate checkpoints and saturation patrols on different weekends as part of a larger publicized impaired-driving enforcement effort. According to one study, the prevalence of self-reported alcohol-impaired driving was lower in States that combined sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols, and enforcement of open container laws compared to States that only did one of these (Sanem et al., 2015).

  • Flexible Checkpoints: Another easy-to-implement and cost-effective strategy to leverage the benefits of traditional checkpoint campaigns is to implement flexible or “phantom” checkpoints. This strategy involves staging checkpoints, but not actually stopping drivers. Signs, law enforcement vehicles, and other indicators of checkpoint activity are parked next to the road suggesting that DWI enforcement is about to begin. The “checkpoint” is then moved to several locations over the course of the evening. The primary objective is deterrence—flexible checkpoints raise the visibility of enforcement activity and increase the perception among the general public that drinking drivers will be caught. An advantage is that only a few officers or auxiliary personnel are required to conduct this activity. Although evaluation studies are needed, law enforcement agencies that have tried flexible checkpoints consider this to be a useful and economic strategy (Lacey et al., 2017). Overall, flexible checkpoints are a versatile, low-cost tool that even small agencies can use to enhance and increase the visibility of their DWI enforcement efforts.  

  • Standardized Field Sobriety Tests: Officers have used SFSTs for more than 40 years[1] to identify impaired drivers. The SFST is a three-test battery—the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand test. Research shows the combined components of the SFST are 91% accurate in identifying drivers with BACs at or above .08 g/dL (Stuster & Burns, 1998). NHTSA strongly supports all officers working traffic enforcement be SFST-trained. Some localities require officers have SFST refresher training before participating in such activities. Officers with SFST or ARIDE training should be able to identify impairment by alcohol or other substances in the field or at checkpoints. Drug recognition experts (DREs) can supplement sobriety checkpoints to detect drivers who are impaired with substances other than alcohol. DREs typically some in after an arrest for impaired driving has been made. SHSOs may request an SFST assessment (or with a DRE module or a stand-alone DRE assessment) that examines a State’s DRE program.

[1] NHTSA's first report on the subject, Development and Field Test of Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrest, by Tharp, Burns, and Moskowitz, Report No. DOT HS 805 864, was published in March 1981.