Group says Ohio Sobriety Checkpoints Ineffective

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Ohio is one of 40 states that use sobriety checkpoints to screen for drunk drivers. But a group representing the restaurant industry says Ohio’s sobriety checkpoints are ineffective. The American Beverage Institute says checkpoints caught fewer than one percent of people driving under the influence. They say saturation or roving police patrols are far more efficient.

The American Beverage Institute analyzed statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Sarah Longwell is the beverage institute’s managing director.

“Only one-third of one percent of drivers stopped at sobriety checkpoints were actually charged with DUIs,” Longwell says. “It hardly justifies the tax dollars spent on them every year.”

Longwell says roving police patrols are 10 times more effective at catching drunk drivers than sobriety checkpoints. She says police have other motivations for the roadblocks.

“Essentially what sobriety checkpoints have become is a cash cow when they write up things like tail lights being out, people improperly buckled,” Longwell says. “Police officers hand out far more of those citations than they do citations for driving under the influence.”

Franklin County’s DUI Task Force director Carl Booth agrees that tickets are more often given for non-drinking violations. As for checkpoints being a cash cow, Booth says officers don’t determine how much in fines checkpoints produce. Each checkpoint costs between $6,000 and $8,000 to operate. Scaled-down, low-manpower checkpoints cost about half as much.

Sarah Longwell says advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers keep up pressure to keep checkpoints going even though they’re not a deterrent. An official with MADD responds.

“I would adamantly disagree. That’s just a distortion.”

Doug Scoles is the state director of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

“One of the main reasons we have sobriety checkpoints is for its deterrence value,” Scoles says. “And that’s been proven over and over by studies by the centers for disease control sobriety checkpoints when they’re publicized and visible are extremely effective.”

The Franklin County DUI task force coordinates 10 to 12 checkpoints a year. The Columbus division of police on the other hand, puts more emphasis on mobile saturation patrols specifically looking for drunk drivers. Again Sarah Longwell.

“They’re actually more effective in getting drunk drivers off the road,” Longwell says. “They’re also less expensive and less time consuming for police officers; not to mention less intrusive to average Americans who drive through the checkpoints.”

A spokesman for the state highway patrol says that of the 26,000 drunk drivers arrested in Ohio last year, most were not caught at sobriety checkpoints. But Lt. Tony Bradshaw says they do play a part in reducing the number of drunk drivers on the state’s roads.

“A large number of OVI arrests should not be anticipated during a checkpoint operation,” Bradshaw says. “What that checkpoint is for is really an education to the public; that we are out there that we are always looking.”

Bradshaw says last year in Ohio more than 450 people were killed in crashes involving drunk drivers.

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