Every year during the Holiday Season, police departments have DUI checkpoints popping up all over the place. They are most common in Downtown San Diego, near Ocean Beach or Pacific Beach and other areas with a high concentration of bars and restaurants.
This year there may be even more than normal. The reason? More money to fund them. The not so well kept secret about DUI checkpoints is that they don’t really work. It has been shown time after time, if you took the same number of police officers for the same amount of time from a DUI checkpoint and put them out on patrol, they would catch more drunk drivers then they ever will at the checkpoint. This is so well known, even appellate courts have acknowledged it. I have even gotten police to admit it in court under oath.
So, if they would actually catch more drunk drivers on patrol than at the DUI checkpoints, why do they do checkpoints? The primary answer is money. Almost all the checkpoints are funded bygrants from Federal and State governments and other sources. So, the police get a grant and then they get to make a bunch of overtime pay which does not come out of their department’s budget. This year, with both the State and Federal budgets offering more grants for DUI checkpoints, and police always happy to pad their paychecks, even if it isn’t for a particularly efficient reason, there will be more checkpoints.
The other reason police like to do the checkpoints is public relations. They love to have the news cameras and other press advertise that they are trying to catch drunk drivers. They leave out the part about it not being an effective way to do it or that they are cashing in.
So, what do you do if you realize you are coming up to one and you had something to drink?
- If you can safely turn to avoid it, go ahead. Understand, they probably have other officers around looking for people doing exactly that. So, drive carefully and do not violate any vehicle code sections that will justify the officers pulling you over.
- If you are pulled over after avoiding a DUI checkpoint, ask the officer if he or she pulled you over because you didn’t go through the checkpoint. They are not allowed to pull you over just because you didn’t go through the DUI checkpoint.
- If you get on the freeway to avoid the checkpoint, don’t get off at the next exit. Same story, there’ll be a cop waiting there to try and catch people avoiding the checkpoint. While the Constitution says you are innocent until proven guilty, that is not how cops think.
- If you are going to have to go through the checkpoint, immediately roll down your windows. Let the car air out before you talk with the police officer. This is especially true if you have passengers who also have been drinking. They are looking for the odor of alcohol.
- Get your driver’s license out before you get to the head of the line and have it ready to give to the cop. They are trained to note if you have any problem getting it out.
- They are going to ask you if you have been drinking. If you had something to drink, do not lie and say you haven’t. If they smell the alcohol on your breath you’ll be ordered out of the vehicle for field sobriety tests. Explain you had that glass of wine with dinner.
- Be polite. Don’t complain or ask the officer how much they are making in overtime. If you have passengers, tell them to just be quiet.
- As you are driving through the checkpoint, take note of how it is set up. How long were you in line? Were there signs saying it was a DUI checkpoint? Were you informed it was a DUI checkpoint when they stopped you? Was there an opportunity to turn and avoid the checkpoint or was it essentially a trap? If you have passengers, have them look around, too.
Happy Holidays and remember the best way not to have a problem at a DUI checkpoint is to not to drink and drive.