How Law Enforcement Will Tackle Holiday Drunk Drivers

by gclatworthy on December 6, 2012

[US Law and General] For most people, the holidays are a time for celebration and relaxation. For others, the holidays can bring tragedy. During the holiday season, traffic accidents and deaths increase sharply as motorists turn to the stress of gift buying, visit friends, and engage in recreational alcohol consumption. Intoxicated motorists pose a significant threat to other motorists. This holiday season, police officers will use a wide array of techniques aimed at getting intoxicated drivers to stay off the roads or pull them off the roads as they find them. Three of the most common techniques are public service announcements, sobriety checkpoints, and saturation patrols.

Public Service Announcements

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Public service announcements are a long running technique aimed at informing motorists of the consequences of driving while intoxicated and urging them to either get a designated driver or stay home. The specific media vehicle varies depending upon the campaign; the campaigns will use any combination of print, television, and internet based techniques to get the message out in front of the customers. Some of these campaigns are backed by law enforcement and some are merely funded by nonprofit organizations wishing everyone a safe holiday.

Public awareness campaigns are effective at reducing the incidence of intoxicated driving. A 2004 article published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine detailed numerous studies pertaining to alcohol related collisions and revealed that media campaigns against drunk driving reduced the occurrence of alcohol-related motor vehicle collisions by 13 percent. Public awareness campaigns also present economic and social benefits that outweigh the direct costs of the campaign. Expect for many localities and nonprofit organizations to encourage those celebrating the holiday to designate a driver or drive sober.

Sobriety Checkpoints

Another common tactic used by law enforcement includes the use of sobriety checkpoints. At a sobriety checkpoint, officers briefly detain certain motorists in order to determine the status of their intoxication. A checkpoint involves several officers setting up a long barricade and funneling traffic into certain lanes; the officers will then stop one vehicle out of every so many and interview the driver. As any California or Orlando DUI lawyer will tell you, ordinarily the U.S. Constitution requires officers to have probable cause before stopping motorists. However, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz 496 U.S. 444 (1990) that sobriety checkpoints conducted within certain parameters did not constitute an unreasonable search and seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Sobriety checkpoints are moderately effective in reducing the number of alcohol related collisions in a specific area. A 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that states that implemented sobriety checkpoints had 20 percent fewer alcohol-related collisions than those that did not. Additional studies have reached mixed conclusions as to whether sobriety checkpoints actually deter intoxicated motorists from driving on the results or whether the motorists are simply arrested. Additionally, whether the officers would be more effective employed elsewhere is a matter of debate.

Saturation Patrols

Yet another common police technique used when specific areas are at risk of certain types of criminal activity includes saturation patrols. Saturation patrols involve law enforcement officers dedicating a large amount of patrol officers to looking for specific indicia of specific types of activity within a certain area. Police officers patrol the streets as normal but look for certain types of criminals while being employed in heavier numbers. Saturation patrols are often used to counter sudden increases in serious offenses such as burglary and robbery, but also work well when employed against intoxicated motorists.

Employing officers to patrol the city and target drunk drivers is one of the most effective tactics available to law enforcement in countering the threat posed by inebriated motorists. In fact, a 2003 comparative study from the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that saturation patrols are a more effective technique of arresting inebriated motorists than using sobriety checkpoints. Having officers available on patrol throughout the city also helps to maintain swift response times to high priority calls as officers are not tied up in one location in one section of the city. Saturation patrols do not make for local headlines or attractive photographs like sobriety checkpoints do but the most effective law enforcement techniques are often mundane in nature.

The holidays are a time for peaceful celebration with family. Police officers are tasked with keeping the public safe during this season. Cities and police departments have several options for dealing with intoxicated motorists within their jurisdiction. Officers may also receive tips from citizens driving near intoxicated motorists, bars may encourage their patrons to abstain from driving, and social pressure can keep individuals from leaving the home while intoxicated in the first place. Whatever the techniques used, officers will be ready to take intoxicated motorists off the roads this holiday season. 

Georgina Clatworthy is a legal writer who has written extensively about DUI and traffic accidents.  Obtaining a charge for driving under the influence this holiday should not be on anyone’s Christmas list, but should you find yourself facing such charges then the services of an Orlando DUI lawyer or qualified attorney within the state where you were charged, is the best way to successfully defend yourself and ensure your rights are protected.

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