Most states in the United States have DUI checkpoints at some point during the year in more populated areas. These are also called sobriety checkpoints, or roadside safety checks. These are set up so that officers can check for alcohol or drug impaired drivers. They are controversial, but are legal here in Utah.

DUI checkpoints are a type of roadblock, and probably the most common you are ever to encounter while driving. They are prevalent on holidays and holiday weekends, especially the Fourth of July, Christmas, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve. The purpose of the roadblock is for police to get a closer look at passing drivers, while briefly stopping them. Although it’s quick, it does give police the chance to check for any drivers who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol by looking into the car and getting a quick sniff of the driver’s breath.

The purpose of checkpoints is to deter driver’s from drinking and driving, lest they be caught at a checkpoint, and arrested for DUI. The fear of arrest is at the heart of the DUI checkpoints effectiveness.

Although the locations of these checkpoints are seemingly random, and are of course temporary, Utah law does require that DUI checkpoints be published in advance of when they will occur. There are several websites to look for checkpoint locations.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled that the intended purpose of any police roadblock be narrow enough to satisfy the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A roadblock for the sole purpose of checking for drunk driving is acceptable. A roadblock to check license, registration, seat belt use, etc. as well as to check for drunk driving is not constitutional.

If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, it pays to remember your constitutional rights and how they apply in a roadblock situation.

First, the police are allowed to briefly stop you in traffic. They may not search your vehicle or your person unless they have probable cause, and/or you agree to the search. You do have the right to refuse a standardized field sobriety test and/or a intoxilyzer test, but refusing the intoxilyzer test will carry the risk of an 18-month suspension of your driving privileges, and is subject to a hearing.

When you are stopped, the police will be looking for specific actions or physical items as they observe you and your vehicle. They’ll notice whether you respond appropriately or fumble when asked for your driver’s license and registration. They will engage you in conversation in an attempt to smell alcohol on your breath. They’ll also watch you for any signs of drunkenness or drug use, such as red eyes, slurred speech, and motor control. Finally, the will look at the inside of your car to see if empty cans or bottles, drugs, or drug paraphernalia are inside. If they have any reason to believe that you are impaired, they will begin a DUI investigation, including a PBT chemical test and field sobriety tests. If these tests show you to be intoxicated, you will be arrested for DUI.

DUI Checkpoint Requirements

As deemed by the courts, a valid DUI checkpoint must be determined by a policy-making official, and it has to be reasonable in its creation and its operation. A logical reason must be presented as to why the DUI checkpoint is needed at the particular location chosen, to justify the intrusion into your constitutional rights. It must also be shown that the officers conducting the checkpoint have followed proper procedures. There are several factors that the courts require be satisfied in order for a DUI checkpoint to meet the proper criteria:

  • Supervisory law enforcement personnel must choose the checkpoint location and establish checkpoint operational procedures to be followed by officers. Officers cannot choose to set up a DUI checkpoint whenever and wherever they choose. They must receive approval from a supervisor prior to establishing a checkpoint, as well as a judicially approved order.
  • A neutral procedure must be set into place for stopping motorists. Random stops are not allowed. All stops must use the same standard for all the vehicles that pass through the checkpoint.
  • Proper safety precautions must be taken, including lighting, warning signs, and signals. Officers and official vehicles must be clearly identified. A DUI checkpoint may not be used as a speed trap.
  • While very subjective, the police must use good judgment in both the manner in which a checkpoint was conducted, as well as its duration. The time limit must be reasonable, and a checkpoint may not be set in place for days.
  • Every checkpoint must show a clear indication of its official nature. This is to ensure motorists feel reassured of the nature of the stop. It must be identified as a DUI checkpoint using signage. It may not be a checkpoint for anything the police feel like investigating at the time of the stop.
  • The checkpoint must move along smoothly and quickly without delaying the driver longer than is absolutely necessary.
  • All checkpoints must be publicly published and that information available before the checkpoint is established. The idea behind this is that it gives the general public the option of avoiding the checkpoint, and if they choose not to avoid it, they have demonstrated consent to the minimal intrusion created by the checkpoint.

Finally, here are a few facts and statistics about Utah DUI checkpoints that you might find interesting and helpful:

  • The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the dangers of driving while intoxicated outweigh the intrusion caused by a DUI checkpoint, and that they are an exception to the 4th Amendment of the Constitution (our right to privacy).
  • The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has shown that DUI checkpoints effectively reduced alcohol-related deaths, injuries, and property damage crashes by about 20%.
  • The CDC has also shown that checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by 17%, and all crashes by 10-15%.
  • Per the CDC, one out of every 10 crashes can be prevented by the use of DUI checkpoints.