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Protecting America's roadways: high-visibility DUI enforcement.

On April 24, 2006, Officer Jeremy P. Chambers of the Cahokia, Illinois, Police Department was killed by an alleged drunk driver. A true public servant who also served as a firefighter and emergency medical technician, Chambers was 26 when he became the first Cahokia police officer killed in the line of duty in the village's 79-year history.

Woodlawn, Ohio, Police Specialist David H. Massel, age 37, lost his life on February 9, 1985, because a drunk driver struck his patrol unit head-on. It was his night off, but he had agreed to trade shifts with another officer.

While attempting to apprehend a suspected drunk driver on June 5, 1998, California Highway Patrol Officer Christopher D. Lydon, age 27, died in the line of duty. Committed to removing drunk drivers from the highway, Officer Lydon had set his sights on becoming Mothers Against Drunk Driving's (MADD) officer of the year. Today, a MADD award bears his name.

Such tributes as these posted on MADD's law enforcement Web site show that while officers are not invulnerable, their inspiration is everlasting. (1) By recognizing that drunk driving laws need high-visibility enforcement and making prevention a priority, officers can protect America's roadways, making them safer not only for the citizens and communities they serve but also for themselves.


In 2005, more officers succumbed to traffic-related incidents, including those involving alcohol, than to any other type of fatal encounter. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), 42 officers died in automobile crashes, 16 were struck by vehicles, and 5 were killed in motorcycle wrecks, for a disturbing total of 63 lives lost. (2) In 2004, the NLEOMF Fallen Heroes Report identified an alarming trend-more officers than ever before are being killed in traffic-related incidents. In fact, during the past three decades, automobile accidents have increased by 40 percent, whereas shootings (historically the leading cause of death among law enforcement officers) decreased by 36 percent. (3)

Friends and relatives of officers, as well as members of the communities they serve, also are being killed and injured by drunk drivers. About 3 in every 10 Americans will be in an alcohol-related crash during their lives. (4) They might be killed, injured, or escape unharmed. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, 16,885 people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2005. (5) On average, injuries affect one person almost every minute, or more than 500,000 people each year. (6)


Driving under the influence of alcohol constitutes a major highway safety problem, and most Americans (94 percent) agree. (7) To combat it, they support increased high-visibility crackdowns, such as sobriety checkpoints (87 percent). (8) Research has revealed that authorities make 1 arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) for every 772 episodes of driving within 2 hours of drinking and for every 88 occurrences of driving over the legal limit in the United States. (9)

With all of the heavy responsibilities facing law enforcement agencies, enforcing drunk driving laws may not always rank as a top priority. This held true for the Spartanburg County, South Carolina, Sheriff's Office until 2005, when its Traffic Enforcement Unit refocused its efforts from speeding and other traffic complaints to DUI enforcement. Midyear, the agency added three deputies via a 3-year grant from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, Office of Highway Safety. (10) The eight-member unit operates with a zero-tolerance philosophy and dedicates its DUI countermeasures to victims of drunk drivers. Each month, the unit posts a list naming people who died in previous years during that month to remind deputies that if they do not prevent others from driving drunk, people die. (11) Following NHTSA's 24 visual cues for detecting DUI motorists, (12) deputies concentrate on all moving violations they see. The unit's countermeasures include saturation patrols, sobriety checkpoints, and public education. (13)

With a DUI prevention and law enforcement focus in 2005, the unit made 294 DUI/driving with an unlawful blood alcohol content arrests, a 475 percent increase over the previous year. The unit continues to expand its efforts, making 415 arrests in the first 6 months of 2006. (14) Reducing the number of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities, as well as the felony DUI docket in general sessions court, means increasing the visibility and public awareness of drunk driving enforcement. Highly visible and well-publicized enforcement can help deter more people from driving impaired because of the increased perception of being caught.

Low-Staffing Checkpoints

Rather than making arrests after the fact, authorities prefer to discourage illegal and dangerous behavior. Sobriety checkpoints have the greatest deterrent value of all impaired driving enforcement methods, (15) and the public (87 percent in 2005) supports these measures. (16) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that sobriety checkpoints consistently reduced alcohol-related crashes by about 20 percent. (17)

Although sobriety checkpoints have proven effective, officials often limit them to a few national holidays. (18) Cost and the large number of officers needed are among the common reasons for not conducting checkpoints, (19) which generally involve as many as 15 to 20 officers on overtime pay, more frequently. (20) Examining two West Virginia counties, a study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety demonstrated that small rural communities can safely and effectively conduct weekly checkpoints using only three to five officers. (21) During the study, 48 low-staffing checkpoints took place in Greenbrier County and 42 occurred in Raleigh County, in both municipal and rural areas. Existing police policies in the communities before the study called for a minimum of eight officers to conduct sobriety checkpoints, but inquiries revealed no legal basis for this assumption. To permit fewer officers to conduct checkpoints, authorities revised police procedures.


The study's findings showed that low-staffing checkpoints, at a cost of $350 to $400 per site, can be expected to result in large reductions in drivers operating at higher blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). Relative to drivers in two comparison counties, the proportion with BACs of 0.05 percent or more was 70 percent lower, and the proportion with BACs of 0.08 percent or more was 64 percent lower. (22) While low-staffing checkpoints cannot solve the drunk driving problem, their effectiveness as an enforcement tool should not be overlooked.

Extra Eyes

Since 2001, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Police has been using Extra Eyes, a civilian volunteer program, to help detect alcohol violations. Volunteers, typically citizens' academy graduates, undergo about 6 hours of training. They learn what they can and cannot do and how to detect impaired drivers and underage drinking. Then, they practice what they have learned by using the police radio in mock scenarios.

Most of the volunteers are senior citizens willing to use their own vehicles on Friday or Saturday nights. Working in pairs, one volunteer observes and the other takes notes. At most, two teams will be out, often in a business area or a parking lot. When they see a violation, they relay the information to officers nearby. The officers then try to build their own probable cause. (23)

NHTSA suggests jurisdictions may consider the use of volunteers to perform ancillary duties required under its Operational Plan for Conducting Low-Staffing Sobriety Checkpoints. Agencies should properly train and brief volunteers and carefully consider their safety. Their responsibilities may include, but not be limited to, counting vehicles, handling nonlaw enforcement paperwork, and monitoring and maintaining sobriety checkpoint traffic control devices. (24) Interns and police explorers also assist Montgomery County's seven-member Alcohol Enforcement Unit. They set up and tear down real or mock checkpoints, which look like real ones but do not have officers at the scene. The department has found that citizens drive through the mock, or phantom, checkpoints without realizing that no officers are present. This gives the impression that police are conducting checkpoints everywhere, every weekend.

Help from MADD and IACP

To help agencies aggressively stop drunk driving through high-visibility law enforcement, MADD and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have joined together. In 2005, IACP created the first DUI subcommittee of its highway safety committee. In 2006, the subcommittee, which includes MADD leaders, drafted an IACP resolution calling for a renewed effort by law enforcement leaders to work toward eliminating impaired driving. In conjunction with the IACP annual conference, a guidebook has been published to assist in reaching this goal.

Drunk driving legislation and increased enforcement have saved an estimated 300,000 lives during the past 25 years. (25) Since MADD set a goal to reduce drunk driving fatalities by 25 percent by 2008, IACP has stood side by side with the organization to ensure that drunk driving remains an important issue for every law enforcement agency in the country. In addition to increased law enforcement efforts, technological support, maximum seat belt use, an improved DUI criminal justice system, and alternative transportation strategies will help accomplish MADD's goal of reducing drunk driving fatalities. According to MADD's Strategic Plan, achieving this goal will save an additional estimated 3,200 lives per year.

To encourage the sharing of success stories, best practices, and other information, MADD offers a Web site for law enforcement officers at It gives them an opportunity to learn about technology, obtain statistics, download public service announcements, write a tribute to a fallen officer, and many other options.


Law enforcement officers are being killed and injured by the same drunk drivers they are trying to keep off of America's roadways. Members of the communities they serve also are falling victim to drunk drivers. Increased DUI enforcement is needed. Low-staffing sobriety checkpoints can offer highly visible and relatively inexpensive prevention and an effective enforcement method supported by the public. Volunteers also can provide low-cost assistance.


The law enforcement profession does not stand alone in this effort. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the International Association of Chiefs of Police offer support and encouragement. Such commitment and a resurgence in general deterrence strategies can help save lives and prevent injuries on this nation's highways.


(1) "Officer Victim Tributes"; retrieved on June 25, 2006, from

(2) "Causes of Law Enforcement Deaths (1996-2005)"; retrieved on June 25, 2006, from

(3) National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2004 Fallen Heroes Report; retrieved on June 28, 2006, from To curb this distressing trend, NLEOMF launched Drive Safely, which educates the public about safer driving habits to help keep officers safe on the road. One of the key points to the NLEOMF Drive Safely campaign is to deter any unsafe behavior behind the wheel, chiefly driving under the influence of alcohol.

(4) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Traffic Stop and You: Improving Communications Between Citizens and Law Enforcement (2001).

(5) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Alcohol-Related Fatalities and Alcohol Involvement Among Drivers and Motorcycle Operators in 2005"; retrieved on August 17, 2006, from

(6) Lawrence Blincoe, et al., The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2000 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC, 2002).

(7) MADD/Nationwide Insurance survey conducted by the Gallup Organization, "New National Poll Shows Americans Support High-Visibility Crackdowns on Drunk Driving and Believe DUI Is the Worst Highway Safety Problem," press release, September 29, 2005.

(8) Ibid.

(9) P. Zador, S. Krawchuk, and B. Moore, "Drinking and Driving Trips, Stops by Police and Arrests: Analysis of the 1995 National Survey of Drinking and Driving Attitudes and Behavior," (Rockville, MD: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2000).

(10) First Sergeant James Bradley, Spartanburg County, South Carolina, Sheriffs Office, interview by author, April 26, 2006, and follow-up communication, June 27, 2006.

(11) The unit obtains this list from its local MADD chapter.

(12) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Explanations of the 24 Driving Cues"; retrieved on June 25, 2006, from

(13) Saturation patrols involve concentrated enforcement efforts over a large geographic area that target impaired drivers by observing moving violations, such as reckless or aggressive driving and speeding. In sobriety checkpoints, law enforcement officers evaluate drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment at certain points on the roadway and stop vehicles in a specific sequence, such as every other one. Sobriety checkpoints must display warning signs to motorists, and officers must have a reason to believe that drivers stopped at these locations have been drinking before conducting a breath test.

(14) Supra note 10.

(15) Ruth Shults, et al., "Reviews of Evidence Regarding Interventions to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving," American Journal of Preventative Medicine 21 (4S) (2001): 66-88.

(16) Supra note 7.

(17) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Research Update: Sobriety Checkpoints Are Effective in Reducing Alcohol-Related Crashes"; retrieved on June 28, 2006, from

(18) Conducted in 39 states and the District of Columbia, sobriety checkpoints are illegal, prohibited, or not used in 11 states; retrieved on August 8, 2006, from

(19) J.C. Fell, S.A. Ferguson, A.F. Williams, and M. Fields, "Why Are Sobriety Checkpoints Not Widely Adopted as an Enforcement Strategy in the United States?" Accident Analysis and Prevention 35 (2003): 897-902.

(20) J.H. Lacey, S.A. Ferguson, T. Kelley-Baker, and R.P. Rider, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "Low-Manpower Checkpoints: Can They Provide Effective DUI Enforcement in Small Communities?" (2005).

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Officer William Morrison, Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Police, interview by author, May 17, 2006.

(24) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Operational Plan for Conducting Low-Staffing Sobriety Checkpoints"; retrieved on June 24, 2006, from

(25) This number is explained in "Lives Saved Due to the Reduction of Alcohol Involvement in Fatal Traffic Crashes from 1982-2004," a table appearing in Traffic Injury Prevention 7, no. 3 (September 2006), adopted from J.C. Fell, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, What's New in Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety? (1995). If the proportion of alcohol-related fatalities had stayed the same as 1980-1982, lives saved per year could be calculated by converting the 40 percent nonalcohol-related to decimal .4044147 and dividing the nonalcohol-related fatalities each year by this decimal.

Ms. Kanable is a freelance writer.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2005-DD-BX-K162 awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs. Points of view in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of DOJ.
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Author:Kanable, Rebecca
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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