The Problem: The operation of motor vehicles while intoxicated is a major public health problem. In 2016, roughtly 10,500 people died in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, accounting for nearly 1/3 of all traffic related deaths. CDC: Impaired Driving Factsheet. Approximately 6,500 (62%) of these individuals had a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of 0.08 g/dL or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of passengers (29%( and non-passengers (9%). Alcohol-Impaired Driving
The Law: At selective breath testing (SBT) checkpoints, law enforcement officials may require a driver to submit to a breath test if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. As of September 2009, law enforcement agencies in 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia may conduct sobriety checkpoints. Governors Highway Safety Association. Law enforcement agencies in 11 states are either not authorized by the state to conduct checkpoints or are prohibited from conducting checkpoints by interpretations of state constitutions or by statutes (e.g., Wisconsin, Wis. Stat. § 349.02(2)(a)). Law enforcement officers follow established procedures in conducting checkpoints, including using objective criteria to determine checkpoint locations and using a predetermined system for stopping cars (e.g., every fourth vehicle at a checkpoint is stopped). For examples of laws authorizing checkpoints, see Utah Code Ann. §§ 77-23-101 et seq (Utah) and Nev. Rev. Stat. § 484.359 (Nevada).
The Evidence: In a systematic review, Shults et al. reviewed 13 studies on SBT checkpoints. Shults, et al. Reviews of Evidence Regarding Interventions to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving. Am J Prev Med. 2001;21(4S):66-88. The reviewers found that the use of SBT checkpoints is effective in reducing fatal and nonfatal injuries involved in motor vehicle accidents and in the reduction of total alcohol related crashes. SBT checkpoints were found to reduce fatal and nonfatal injuries during crashes by a median 20 percent. An ancillary benefit noted in the underlying studies of SBT checkpoints is the increased policing of other illegal activity behavior such as driving with a suspended license.
The Evidence: A 2014 Community Guide Systematic Review reported on the efficacy of publicized sobriety check-points. Publicized Sobriety Checkpoint Programs: A Community Guide Systematic Review. Authors included 10 studies which addressed the effectiveness of publicized sobriety check-point programs between 2000-2012. Studies were nationally representative. Evidence showed an 8% reduction in related crash fatalities after implementation of such programs. Additionally, check-points surrounding high risk areas, such as college campuses showed a 28% reduction in such fatalities.
The Bottom Line: In the judgment of a Community Guide expert panel, there is strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of SBT sobriety checkpoints as a public health intervention aimed at reducing the harms associated with alcohol impaired driving.
Additional Information: The Community Guide provides online access to a table summarizing the studies used in the review.