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A primer on Illinois drunk-driving checkpoints

On Behalf of | Aug 29, 2017 | Blog

It seems self-evident that drunk-driving checkpoints (sometimes called roadblocks or saturation enforcement) should be illegal. If police need probable cause to pull a driver over for DUI, then why is it O.K. to stop a driver when there’s no probable cause?

On the other side of the argument, supporters of drunk-driving checkpoints say they serve public-safety purposes: roadblocks deter drunk driving and raise the public’s awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving. 

Many people have challenged the constitutionality of checkpoints, yet courts in most states – including Illinois – have found that drunk-driving checkpoints are legal. The courts’ reasoning generally has been that public-safety interests outweigh the minor inconvenience that checkpoints present to motorists.

Courts have said that checkpoints must meet certain minimum standards, in order to be constitutional:

  • Authorities must publicize checkpoints in advance
  • The location of the checkpoints must be reasonable
  • The duration of the checkpoints must be reasonable

Plus, officers must rely on a neutral formula for stopping motorists.

What happens at a drunk-driving checkpoint?

What do checkpoints look like, and what happens at a checkpoint? The National Highway Transportation Safety Association advises law-enforcement agencies on drunk-driving checkpoints. The NHTSA recommends that police use proper signage, marked cars and uniformed officers.

If a motorist is stopped at a checkpoint, an officer typically will conduct a brief conversation with the driver. The officer might ask to see a driver’s license or proof of insurance. If the police detect any signs of intoxication, he or she might conduct a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer.

Where do checkpoints occur?

When selecting a location for a checkpoint, the NHTSA says:

  • The location should have a “high incidence” of impaired driving crashes
  • The checkpoint must be conducted with the least amount of intrusion and inconvenience for motorists
  • The location should have room on the shoulder for detaining drivers and conducting field sobriety tests

Drunk-driving checkpoints in our region

Here are the locations of drunk-driving checkpoints conducted in southern Illinois in the past 12 months, according to

  • Carbondale, June 10, 2017
  • East St. Louis, June 2, 2017
  • Venice, May 5, 2017
  • East St. Louis, April 1, 2017
  • Bridgeport, March 25, 2017
  • Carterville, March 18, 2017
  • Springfield (at seven locations), December 31, 2016
  • Wood River, December 30, 2016
  • Marion, December 3, 2016
  • Edwardsville, November 26, 2016

If you study Illinois the location information, the vast majority of drunk-driving roadblocks are located in the Chicago area. Nearly all checkpoints are conducted on Friday or Saturday nights.