Last week Missouri’s legislature sent a bill to the governor’s desk that could make sobriety checkpoints in Missouri a thing of the past.
House Bill 4 reduces annual state funding for DWI checkpoints from $20 million down to $1. The bill’s supporters say the reduction is in response to both a tight state budget and skepticism about the effectiveness of checkpoints to actually stop drunk drivers.
An outdated tool?
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association 37 states, including Missouri, currently conduct sobriety checkpoints. But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, has argued checkpoints are too easy for drunk drivers to avoid and tend to result in only a handful of DWI arrests. Instead, he wants counties to focus on other drunk-driving countermeasures, like saturation patrols.
Deterring would-be drunk drivers
But those in favor of DWI checkpoints, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), say that they act as high-visibility enforcement tool to dissuade impaired individuals from getting behind the wheel in the first place. In a recent blog MADD noted that sobriety checkpoints send a message “to the motoring public that there is a ‘zero tolerance’ for driving while impaired.” MADD is a vocal opponent of Missouri’s bill, noting that in 2015 more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities in the state involved a drunk driver.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also supports checkpoints, noting that they fall into the category of countermeasures that “have been shown to reduce the rate of alcohol-impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes.”
Funds defray local enforcement costs
House Bill 4 won’t prevent counties from conducting sobriety checkpoints, but without funding from the state, many local law enforcement agencies have said they won’t be able to afford to do so. Checkpoints are most frequently scheduled during nights and weekends—the times with the highest rates of drunk driving. However, nights and weekends are also when agencies tend to see a higher number of other issues. Counties use state funds to cover overtime and additional officers to run the checkpoints without impacting staffing for other needs.
A number of local agencies have come out against the bill and are urging the governor to reinstate funding for sobriety checkpoints, but some think the move will simply encourage departments to change their tactics for DWI enforcement. What do you think?