How To Guide

Understanding the Problem

Drunk and drugged driving affects one in three Americans during their lifetime. The probability of being injured or killed in an impaired driving crash is still unacceptably high.


The good news is that alcohol and drug-related traffic fatalities are at an all-time low. The bad news is that impaired driving fatalities account for 38 percent of all motor vehicle deaths. That's one person killed every 33 minutes and one person injured every two minutes. We've come a long way in the battle against impaired driving, but it continues to be one of the most serious national problems.

Our road to success has been a long, steady climb. By working together in national, state and local partnerships, the number of impaired driving incidents has declined. Campaigns such as You Drink & Drive. You Lose. provide a voice for Americans who wish to end the violent criminal act of impaired driving. Targeting high-risk populations such as 21- to 34-year olds, people with high Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and repeat offenders, and underage drinkers between the ages of 15 and 20, the You Drink & Drive. You Lose. campaign offers communities a framework to support current state and local impaired driving and underage drinking programs.

Working with the National Organizations for Youth Safety, which represents over 40 youth oriented safety groups, NHTSA created a ground-breaking new program called Zero Tolerance Means Zero Chances. The campaign is about making sure that drivers under 21 know they will face severe penalties if they are caught drinking and driving impaired. If drivers under 21 possess a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level over .00, .01 or .02, depending on the state, they will be found guilty of impaired driving.

Through the You Drink & Drive. You Lose. campaign and support from partners, we hope to reach the national goal of no more than 11,000 deaths by the year 2005. To reach this goal, campaign partners and law enforcement officials must reach out to communities with this life-saving message, You Drink & Drive. You Lose. Partners include the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs' Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Operation C.A.R.E., the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Nationwide Insurance, and Safe Communities. We are continuing to work with other groups in health, education, the judicial system and businesses to expand the partner base.

As we forge ahead, the solution to our nation's impaired driving problem will come from leveraging partnerships more effectively at the local level. Community-based partnerships, along with increased enforcement, are the key to winning the battle against impaired driving. Among the many methods of enforcement, two of the most effective tools for law enforcement agencies are sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols.


In communities across the United States, only one arrest is made for every 772 impaired driving trips. Law enforcement resources must be used efficiently and effectively in order to reduce impaired driving. Saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints act as deterrents to drivers who drink or use drugs and remind the general public that impaired driving is a crime. Checkpoints and patrols increase the perceived risk of arrest if they are adequately publicized.

Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints in 1990. If conducted properly, sobriety checkpoints do not constitute illegal search and seizure in most states. The U.S. Supreme Court decision held that the interest in reducing alcohol-impaired driving was sufficient to justify the brief intrusion of a properly conducted sobriety checkpoint.

Most states allow sobriety checkpoints. Many states set their own guidelines to supplement the federal rules. For example, many states require advance notice of the checkpoint to the public. A few states require the production of police studies showing why a checkpoint location is selected. One state requires police to obtain a Superior Court order before the checkpoint may be conducted. For a list of states that permit sobriety checkpoints, and the case law or legislation allowing them, click here.

If a checkpoint complies with the federal requirements, it does not violate the United States Constitution. Most states have decided the issue under their own constitutions as well.

In states where sobriety checkpoints are prohibited, the reasons vary as to why they aren't allowed. Eleven states currently prohibit any type of sobriety checkpoint. The map below illustrates states that do and do not permit sobriety checkpoints.

map of U.S. showing states that prohibit and allow Sobriety Checkpoints - see "d" for description* The issue has not been addressed directly, but Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. §484.359 allows for administrative roadblocks. They are defined as stops conducted for lawful purposes, other than identifying the occupants or emergency. (Source: NHTSA 1999)

The Difference Between Sobriety Checkpoints and Saturation Patrols

What are sobriety checkpoints?
At sobriety checkpoints, law enforcement officials evaluate drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment at certain points on the roadway. Vehicles are stopped in a specific sequence, such as every other vehicle or every fourth, fifth or sixth vehicle. The frequency with which vehicles are stopped depends on the personnel available to staff the checkpoint and traffic conditions.

What are saturation patrols?
Saturation patrols involve an increased enforcement effort, targeting a specific area, to identify and arrest the impaired driver. Multiple agencies often combine and concentrate their resources to conduct saturation patrols.


This How-to Guide can help you plan your impaired driving enforcement activities. It describes operational procedures that may help ensure that sobriety checkpoints are conducted legally, effectively and safely. These points are consistent with those specified in court decisions, including the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Michigan v. Sitz that upholds the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints.

Guidelines are provided below for effectively implementing either a full-scale sobriety checkpoint or a scaled-back sobriety checkpoint for agencies with limited resources. However, it is your responsibility to verify that these guidelines meet your state's requirements.

Full-Scale Sobriety Checkpoint Tips
The difference between full- and small-scale sobriety checkpoints is generally defined by staffing levels, human resources or personnel. A full-scale effort might use 10 to 12 officers or more.

Law enforcement agencies should assign a sworn, uniformed officer to supervise the planning of a sobriety checkpoint. This officer needs to be highly knowledgeable of your state's sobriety checkpoint rules and regulations, as he or she will be responsible for the overall operation and staffing of the activity.

Small-Scale Sobriety Checkpoint Tips
Sobriety checkpoints can be labor intensive, but some agencies may have too few personnel to staff a full-scale checkpoint. Small-scale checkpoints are operated under the same guidelines as larger-scale programs, while using only three to five officers, plus a cadre of volunteers.

For these smaller operations, duties should be delegated to all personnel assigned to staff the checkpoint. Uniformed officers must be present to conduct impaired driver evaluations, and to make arrests when necessary. Volunteers are needed to assist with any additional duties or needs that may arise. As with all sobriety checkpoints, the safety and convenience of motorists and law enforcement personnel are priorities.

A timeline appears in Timelines to help you with your planning.

Enlist Prosecutorial and Judicial Support

Review Existing Laws and Departmental Policy Operational Briefings Contingency Planning Site Selection Sufficient Warning Devices Visible Police Authority Detection and Investigation Techniques Chemical Testing Logistics Public Information and Education Data Collection and Evaluation
Sample Sobriety Checkpoint Questionnaire to the Public

Help your local law enforcement refine their efforts to halt impaired driving! (Fill out the following questionnaire and drop it in the mail to [YOUR DEPARTMENT'S ADDRESS].)

Is this the first sobriety checkpoint that you have encountered?
• Yes, this is the first checkpoint I have ever encountered.
• No. If no, where and when was the previous checkpoint?_________________

Did you hear about the Sobriety Checkpoint in advance?
• Yes
• No

If yes, where did you hear about the Checkpoint?
• Television
• Radio
• Newspaper
• Friend
• Community Group/Church Group
• Other (please specify) ________________

Approximately how long did you have to wait in line before you passed through the checkpoint?
• Less than a minute
• 1-3 minutes
• 4-6 minutes
• 7-10 minutes
• More than 10 minutes

[ENTER LOCAL IMPAIRED DRIVING STATISTICS] occur each year in our community. Do you feel that the wait time you experienced at the checkpoint was worth it to make our roads safer?
• Yes, the inconvenience is worth it to make sure our streets are safe
• No

Do you have any other comments or suggestions?

Be sure to include your agency's address on the reverse side of the questionnaire.


As with sobriety checkpoints, effective saturation patrols require careful planning. For enforcement agencies conducting their first saturation patrol, it is recommended to begin with a small-scale enforcement project. Eventually, larger enforcement projects can be explored as experience is gained. But whether the saturation patrol is large-scale or narrowly focused, there is one important key for success: the solicitation of ideas from participating coordinators. By sharing ideas, suggestions and solutions, program participants can sustain a high level of motivation and assist in streamlining the overall operation of the saturation patrol.

Consider these areas when planning a saturation patrol:

Enlist Prosecutors/Judges

Jurisdiction Review and Mutual Aid Operational Considerations Consult State Departments of Alcohol Beverage Control Appoint a Public Information Officer
Detecting Impaired Driving and Riding

For motorists, these visual cues are presented in four categories:

  •  Problems in maintaining proper lane position  
  •  Speed and braking problems  
  •  Vigilance problems 
  •  Judgment problems 

For motorcyclists, some visual cues are:
  •  Drifting during a turn or curve  
  •  Trouble with dismounting  
  •  Trouble with balance at a stop  
  •  Turning problems  
  •  Acting inattentive to surroundings  
  •  Inappropriate/unusual behavior 

For more information on detection cues, please order The Visual Detection of DWI Motorists and The Detection of DWI Motorcyclists at NHTSA’s web site at or by faxing the order form located in the Resources section or the PDF located in the Table of Contents.


Training Crime Lab Technicians Support Resources Warrant Service Consider Youth Enforcement Seat Belt Enforcement Departmental Reports and Documentation Evaluation
Recommended Questions for Administrative Review of Saturation Patrol Operations
  1. Did the patrol effort address the stated problem? 

  3. Were the stated goals and objectives met? 

  5. Were the personnel, equipment and other resources devoted to the program adequate? 

  7. Did media coverage meet expectations? 

  9. Were all participating agencies adequately prepared and equipped for the patrol effort? 

  11. What was the public's perception of the event? Was public awareness of the problem of impaired driving in the community raised? 

  13. Was the expenditure of resources worth the results? Remember, more than just arrest numbers should be examined. Factors such as public perception, morale of participants, among others, should be considered. 

  15. If future saturation patrols are to be undertaken, what operational and policy improvements need to be made? Commanders should address issues such as expanding the program to include other agencies, or including additional operational units to further address the problem of the impaired driver. 

Permits Sobriety Check-points?
Case Law or Legislation Governing Checkpoints
Alabama Yes 515 So.2d 149 (Ala Cr. 1987)
Alaska No No statutory provision or case law decision.
Arizona Yes 691 P.2d 1073 (Ariz. 1984)
Arkansas Yes 827 S.W.2d 157 (Ark. 1992)
California Yes 743 P.2d 1299 (Cal. 1987)
Colorado Yes 803 P.2d 483 (Colo. 1990)
Connecticut Yes 671 A.2d 834 (Conn.App.CT. 1996)
Delaware Yes See 621 A.2d 804 (Del. Super Ct. 1992).1 The courts have not directly upheld their constitutionality under the state constitution.
District of Columbia Yes See 629 A.2d 1 (D.C. 1993)2
Florida Yes 483 So.2d 433 (Fla. 1985)
Georgia Yes 318 S.E.2d 693 (Ga. App. Ct. 1984)
Hawaii Yes H.R.S. §§286-162.5, 286-162.6
Idaho No 756 P.2d 1057 (Idaho 1988)
Illinois Yes 486 N.E.2d 880 (Ill. 1985)
Indiana Yes 500 N.E.2d 158 (Ind. 1986)
Iowa No According to Chapter 312K
Kansas Yes 673 P.2d 1174 (Kan. 1983)
Kentucky Yes 660 S.W.2d 677 (Ky. 1984)
Louisiana Yes 764 So. 2d 64 (La. 2000)
Maine Yes 551 A.2d 116 (Me. 1988)
Maryland Yes 479 A.2d 903 (Md. 1984)
Massachusetts Yes 521 N.E.2d 987 (Mass. 1988)
Michigan No 506 N.W.2d 209 (Mich. 1993)
Minnesota No 519 N.W.2d 183 (Minn. 1994)
Mississippi Yes The issue had not been addressed directly, but see 506 So.2d 254 (1987), holding that police may stop a vehicle which evades a roadblock. See also 150 So.2d 512 (1963), upholding license checks.
Missouri Yes 755 S.W.2d 624 (Mo. App. 1988)
Montana Yes "Safety spot checks" are authorized by Mont. Code Ann. §§46-5502. The statute authorizes checks for licenses, registration, insurance, and identification.3
Nebraska Yes 383 N.W.2d 461 (Neb.1986). Checkpoints may be allowed if proper standards are followed
Nevada Yes This issue has not been addressed directly, but Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. §484.359 allows for administrative roadblocks. They are defined as stops conducted for lawful purposes, other than identifying the occupants or emergency.
New Hampshire Yes N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §265:1-a. Though originally held to be unconstitutional, the Justices subsequently issued an opinion endorsing checkpoints. They are valid under the state constitution only with superior court order.
New Jersey Yes 567 A.2d 277 (N.J. Super. 1989)
New Mexico Yes 735 P.2d 1161 (N.M. App. 1987); 908 P.2d 756 (N.M. App. 1995). They are generally valid under the state constitution, but the facts of each roadblock must be examined.
New York Yes 473 N.E.2d 1 (N.Y. 1984)
North Carolina Yes N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-16.3A. Roadblocks that comply with this statute have been held constitutional.4
North Dakota Yes 513 N.W.2d 373 (N.D. 1994)
Ohio Yes 651 N.E.2d 46 (Ohio App. 10 Dist.1994)
Oklahoma Yes 884 P.2d 1218 (Okla. App. 1994)
Oregon No 743 P.2d 711 (Or. 1987)
Pennsylvania Yes 535 A.2d 1035 (Pa. 1987)
Rhode Island No 561 A.2d 1348 (R.I. 1989)
South Carolina Yes Follows federal guidelines outlined in Michigan v. Sitz, 486 U.S. 444(1990)
South Dakota Yes 522 N.W.2d 196 (S.D. 1994)
Tennessee Yes 1988 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 725; 1995 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 836. Valid under the state constitution if conducted properly.
Texas No 887 S.W.2d (Tex. Crim. App. 1994). They are not permissible in Texas under the federal constitution only because Texas has no statutory scheme authorizing them.5
Utah Yes N/A
Vermont Yes 496 A.2d 442 (Vt. 1985)
Virginia Yes 337 S.E.2d 273 (Va. 1985)
Washington No 755 P.2d 775 (Wash. 1988)
West Virginia Yes 460 S.E.2d 48 (W.Va. 1995). They are constitutional when conducted with in predetermined guidelines.
Wisconsin No Wis. Stat. §349.02(2)(a) prohibits sobriety checkpoints.
Wyoming No Wyo. Stat. §7-17-101 et seq.6


  1. According to the court, "Delaware has considered the constitutionality of DUI roadblocks and has found no per se Fourth Amendment violation…The stopping of a vehicle within the purview of a sobriety checkpoint remains a legitimate tool for the enforcement of laws prohibiting driving while under the influence."
  2. The court held that checking for impaired drivers is a lawful justification for a roadblock. It cited Michigan v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990) as authority.
  3. Note that the Highway Traffic Safety office indicated that the statute is used as authority for spot checks of safety belts as well as impaired driving.
  4. See State v. Barnes, 472 S.E. 2d 784 (N.C. Ct. App.1996).
  5. The court upheld that the federal constitution requires the legislature to enact constitutional guidelines before checkpoints may be conducted.
  6. Since the statute defines only specific areas of authorized roadblocks, all others are foreclosed.



crime statistics

Source: NHTSA Traffics Saftey Facts, 1999
Uniform Crime Report, 1999 Department of Justice

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