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Effectiveness: 1 Star Cost: Varies
Use: Low
Time: Medium

Overall Effectiveness Concerns: This countermeasure has not been systematically examined. There are insufficient evaluation data available to conclude that the countermeasure is effective.

The purpose of “sweeping” alcohol-impaired pedestrians from the streets until they no longer have high BACs is intended to reduce the exposure of these at-risk pedestrians to traffic, and can also address other social issues such as public intoxication and crime. Pedestrians with high BACs are at high risk of injury due to motor vehicle crashes. A program of removing alcohol- impaired pedestrians from the streets can be effective in reducing their exposure and thus the risk.

There are some important issues that need to be resolved when setting up sweeper programs, such as how to identify at-risk pedestrians (e.g., calls from bars or direct observers, observation by police or health professionals), who will pick up the targets, where will they be kept until they are sober, what friends or family need to be notified at the time of the pickup (if any), how the pedestrians are returned home after the intervention, and how the costs of the program are borne.

Huntley (1984) focused on police “sweeper” squads and “support on call” programs involving taxis and trained escorts to get intoxicated people home or to a detoxification center. Services of these types in the Boston area were surveyed. Both types of services appeared practical and effective, though the number of people who could be reached by these services was relatively small. There was a problem related to the number of available detoxification beds in the community. The sweeper squads wanted to deliver intoxicated pedestrians to the mental health community, not to police facilities, and they stopped the sweep when the beds were filled. There were also problems with the number of taxi drivers who wanted to deal with intoxicated people and the availability of volunteer escorts.

In 2005 the National Health Service of London created a program of alternative response vehicles (often called “booze buses”) in response to an increasing number of alcohol related ambulance calls (Hayes, 2010). Staffed with paramedics, these buses collect intoxicated pedestrians and bring them to alcohol treatment centers or hospitals.

Use: Well-publicized sweep operations, which involve picking up intoxicated people from the street and letting them “sleep it off,” have been conducted in Puerto Rico and in Gallup, New Mexico. Puerto Rico’s program, which included a statute, communications and outreach, and law enforcement training, led to a 7% drop in alcohol-related pedestrian crashes (Stewart, 1994). Current use of this program in the United States is minimal, and appears to be limited to small-scale, local efforts.

Effectiveness: Such programs typically reach only a fraction of those people who need the services. The sweeps typically deal with people who are too drunk to walk or even know that they are being “swept.” These same people are at risk while they are becoming intoxicated, and, in all likelihood, will be at risk again in the near future as they become sober and thus more mobile (Huntley, 1984). As described by Huntley, many people need intensive treatment for alcoholism; and sweeper programs may be useful in identifying potential treatment candidates.

Costs: The program incurs ongoing costs directly related to the effectiveness, i.e., the number of people swept up. Depending on how it is set up, the program may incur costs related to the sweeper patrol (or law enforcement overtime), the use of facilities, and any subsequent treatment requirements.

Time to implement: Once it is decided to offer the program, the logistics for starting it up could be handled in weeks or months, depending on the extent and coordination of services.

Other issues:

  • The legal rights of those potentially being swept need to be preserved.
  • Often if law enforcement or other formal agencies are involved, their regular procedures would require some formal charge or other processing to take place. Alternatively, a sweeper program could be without subsequent consequences to those being swept, with no formal records kept. This might eliminate certain organizations or agencies from participating.