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Effectiveness: 5 Star Cost: $$$
Use: Medium
Time: Short

Law enforcement officers stop vehicles at predetermined sobriety checkpoints to check for driver impairment. They may stop every vehicle or stop vehicles at some regular interval, such as every third or tenth vehicle. The purpose of checkpoints is to deter driving after drinking by increasing the perceived risk of arrest. To do this, checkpoints should 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 et al. (2013) for a detailed description of six HVE programs in the United States, including enforcement strategies, visibility elements, use of media, funding, and many other issues.

Use: As of November 2018 sobriety checkpoints are authorized in 37 States and the District of Columbia, but they vary in terms of how regularly they are conducted (GHSA, 2018b). Only 16 States conduct checkpoints somewhere in their State on a weekly basis.

Two national surveys shed light on the frequency of use of sobriety checkpoints by State and local LEAs. Erickson et al. (2015) found that of the 48 State patrol and 1,082 local LEAs that permitted checkpoints in 2010 and 2011, some 73% of State patrol agencies and 55% of local agencies conducted them. The main reasons cited as why checkpoints were not used more frequently were lack of law enforcement personnel and lack of funding (Fell et al., 2003). A possible solution for this is to combine resources with other agencies. Specifically, the results of a survey by Eichelberger and McCartt (2016) found that 40% of agencies that conducted checkpoints reported pooling resources with other LEAs.

Erickson et al. (2015) suggest lack of legislation to allow checkpoints and low levels of public support (Fell et al., 2003) can also be barriers to implementation. The Erickson study found that State agencies in the South (with drier weather), local agencies with full-time officers for alcohol enforcement, and local agencies with alcohol divisions were more likely to conduct saturation patrols (i.e., impaired driving-specific patrols by a large number of officers in a target area within a given duration; see Section 2.2).

Effectiveness: 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 by Erke et al. (2009) found that checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by 17%, and all crashes by 10 to 15%. Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs have proven effective in reducing alcohol-related crashes among high-risk populations including males and drivers 21 to 34 years old (Bergen et al., 2014).

NHTSA has supported efforts to reduce alcohol-impaired driving using publicized sobriety checkpoint programs. Evaluations of sobriety checkpoints and extensive paid media in statewide campaigns in Connecticut and West Virginia found decreases in alcohol-related fatalities, as well as fewer drivers with positive BACs at roadside surveys (Zwicker, Chaudhary, Maloney, & Squeglia, 2007; Zwicker, Chaudhary, Solomon, Siegler, & Meadows, 2007). In addition, a study of demonstration programs in 7 States found reductions in alcohol-related fatalities from 11% to 20% in States using numerous checkpoints, other high-visibility operations and intensive publicity, including paid advertising (Fell, Langston, et al., 2008). States with lower levels of enforcement and publicity did not demonstrate decreases in fatalities relative to neighboring States. See also NHTSA’s Strategic Evaluation States initiative (NHTSA, 2007; Syner et al., 2008), the Checkpoint Strikeforce program (Lacey et al., 2008), and the national Labor Day holiday campaign: Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest (Solomon et al., 2008).

Safety campaigns involving education and enforcement can be improved by explaining where and when they are effective. Schneider et al. (2017) demonstrated that resources invested at ideal locations for checkpoints can be justified based on areas with higher crash injury severity and by comparing the value of patrolling with the probability of potential pullovers over a period of time. This type of analysis helps stakeholders predict resource needs as well as where and when to implement campaigns based on spatial, temporal, and geographic patterns specific to given counties. NHTSA’s fact sheets, media releases, op-eds, and other information aid in planning and preparation of campaigns tailored to holidays and special events. See for examples of the 4th of July Drive Sober campaign.

Costs: 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 year-long programming of weekly low-staff checkpoints. The proportion of nighttime drivers with BACs of .05 g/dL or higher was 70% lower in these counties compared to comparison counties without 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 LEAs in planning, operating, and evaluating low-staff sobriety checkpoints (NHTSA, 2006b).

Checkpoint publicity can be costly if paid media are used. For the Checkpoint Strikeforce program, paid media budgets ranged from $25,000 in West Virginia to $433,000 in Maryland (Fell et al., 2013). Publicity for checkpoints should also include earned and social media.

Time to implement: Sobriety checkpoints can be implemented very quickly if officers are trained in detecting impaired drivers, SFST, and checkpoint operational procedures. NHTSA provides resources and further details on HVE at

Other issues:

    • Legality: As of November 2018 checkpoints were not conducted in 13 States (GHSA, 2018b). In 12 of these States (Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), checkpoints are prohibited by State laws, State constitutions, or interpretations of the State law. In Missouri checkpoints are authorized by law but the State budget prohibits funding them (GHSA, 2018b). States where checkpoints are not permitted may use other enforcement strategies such as saturation patrols (see the Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 2.2).
    • Visibility: Checkpoints must be highly visible and publicized extensively to be effective. 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 et al. (2013) for additional recommendations concerning checkpoint visibility.
    • Arrests: The primary purpose of publicized sobriety checkpoint programs is to deter impaired driving, not to increase arrests. However, impaired drivers detected at checkpoints should be arrested and arrests should be publicized. That said, arrests at checkpoints should not be used as measures of effectiveness; the number of contacts would be more appropriate. Secondary values of checkpoints are they are checking for valid driver licenses, seat belt use, outstanding warrants, stolen vehicles, and other traffic and criminal infractions.
    • Combining checkpoints with other activities: To boost visibility, some jurisdictions combine checkpoints with activities such as saturation patrols or enforcement of open container laws (Sanem et al., 2015). For example, some LEAs 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 the results of a survey conducted with State patrol agencies and local LEAs, the prevalence of self-reported alcohol-impaired driving was lower in States where sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols, and enforcement of open container laws were conducted. These results demonstrate the potential value of LEAs implementing enforcement-related strategies to more effectively reduce alcohol-impaired driving. NHTSA strongly supports that officers conducting such be trained in the SFST battery. Officers trained in Drug recognition (DREs) can supplement sobriety checkpoints to detect drivers who are impaired with substances other than alcohol.
      Another easy-to-implement, cost-effective strategy to leverage the benefits of traditional checkpoint campaigns are flexible or “phantom” checkpoints. Typically, signs, displays, and law enforcement vehicles are set up at a mock checkpoint location although neither enforcement nor arrests are planned. This high-visibility strategy deters impaired driving with lower costs than full checkpoint implementation. Flexible checkpoints are suitable for small agencies with few staff, especially on rural roadways with high frequencies of alcohol-related crashes. Lacey et al. (2017) evaluated use and effectiveness of these checkpoints as complements to driver awareness of enforcement in one jurisdiction. Feedback from staff was positive and staff and supervisors believed that flexible checkpoints were practical and easy to implement. However, empirical evaluations of effectiveness were inconclusive because of the small scale of the evaluation. Another study based on survey responses and from field inspections in two counties in Illinois concluded flexible checkpoints were not a statistically effective strategy. One proposed explanation was the lack of media publicity for flexible checkpoints compared to planned activities.
    • Standardized Field Sobriety Tests: LEAs have used SFSTs for more than 40 years to identify impaired drivers.[1] 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 above the illegal limit of .08 g/dL (Stuster & Burns, 1998). It is recommended that any officers working HVE  should be SFST-trained. Some localities require that officers have SFST refresher training before participating in such activities. State Highway Safety Offices may request through their NHTSA Regional Offices SFST assessments (and SFST with DRE-module add-on assessment) that look at a State’s application of basic law enforcement tools for detecting impaired drivers.

[1] NHTSA began researching how to test suspects in 1975. The first SFSTs were put into the effect in 1981. The "founding document" for SFSTs was NHTSA's report, Development and Field Test of Psychophysical Tests for DWI Arrest, by Van K. Tharp, Marcelline Burns, and Herbert Moskowitz (1981, March), Report No. DOT HS 805 864,