Alcohol

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Police in Escondido recently set up a DUI roadblock from 6pm to 12am. The tally:

1,600 cars stopped,

931 drivers screened,

82 drivers pulled aside for extra scrutiny,

32 vehicles impounded,

52 tickets issued to drivers other than those whose vehicles were impounded,

and, drum-roll please….

...one DUI arrest.

Given that the Supreme Court has only ruled on the legitimacy of roadblock checkpoints for DUI policing (it has declared them illegal for the purposes of drug policing, for example), you have to wonder at what point what these roadblocks are achieving in practice begins to make them constitutionally dubious, despite the fact that their stated purpose may be.

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  1. Of course the risk of pressing the obvious Constitutional claim here is that the courts might find whatever they impounded the cars for to be a problem every it as urgent as the courts deemed drunk driving to be. then things would be worse.

    Too bad there are so many Bush appointees and so few Gore appointees on our courts these days.

  2. But that drunk driver could have run over a child! Obviously, this was done for the children.

  3. We are just totally screwed!

  4. I am totally against roadblocks on principle. That said, I think Balko misses the obvious argument for roadblocks here; of course DUI numbers are low because the roadblocks deter people from driving drunk. The low number of arrests could show that the roadblocks are effective. Of course there is more to this, you would have to have some idea of how many people would have driven drunk if not for the roadblocks. But, the mere fact that the roadblocks didn’t catch any drunks does not necessarily mean that they are not effective.

  5. John,

    “the mere fact that the roadblocks didn’t catch any drunks does not necessarily mean that they are not effective.”

    Well, they did make *one* arrest. Out of 1600 cars stopped. So to say they’re not effective is not true. But to say they’re 0.0625% effective would be right on in this case. And that percentage, as far as government programs goes, is way the hell up there.

  6. sage, I think you whiffed on the definition of “deter.”

    John, the problem with the deterrence argument is that these roadblocks are set up randomly. The point is that unwitting drivers are supposed to stumble into them. This strategy undermines the possibility of a deterrence effect, just like “speed traps” vs. visible patrols.

  7. True Joe and don’t mistake me, I hate roadblocks with a passion. I would rather risk being killed by a drunk driver than have my freedom taken away by a papers please society.

  8. One thing that always puzzles me about the roadblocks in my area is that they’re always relatively early. They’re usually gone before 2am, which is last call in CT on weekends. It’s strange because that’s when you’d assume that the highest number of dangerous drunk drivers would be on road.

    As it is, the people who get charged with DUI are generally those who answer yes when asked if they’d had a drink tonight.

  9. 1,600 cars stopped,
    931 drivers screened,
    82 drivers pulled aside for extra scrutiny,
    32 vehicles impounded,
    52 tickets issued to drivers other than those whose vehicles were impounded,
    and, drum-roll please….
    …one DUI arrest.

    Your tax dollars hard at work. Hell, they could have gunned down an old women for less money. REMEMBER KATHRYN JOHNSTON!

    Police State? So damned close it makes me sick.

  10. “I would rather risk being killed by a drunk driver than have my freedom taken away by a papers please society.”

    John- please print that out and tape it to your monitor, so you can look at it before you post anything about the Global War on Scary Badguys.

    ——

    Drunk Driver Patrol: When I was living in Indianapolis, I saw many instances of police cars sitting more or less unobtrusively where they could observe the patrons of bars as they exited in the wee hours of the morning. In terms of actual effect, this makes much more sense than roadblocks.

  11. “the mere fact that the roadblocks didn’t catch any drunks does not necessarily mean that they are not effective.”

    wow. I’d like to buy your rock.

    “The mere fact that the federal minimum wage policy doesn’t follow the stated goals (Brown (1988)) of said policy (and that increases follow a political-interest model (Sobel (1999))) does not necessarily mean that it isn’t effective.”

    “The mere fact that super glue not only patches the puncture in the Noam Chomsky blow up doll but affixes yer johnson to it does not necessarily mean that it isn’t effective.”

    “the mere fact that Kyoto might not alleviate or mitigate the effects of climate change from CO2, it does not necessarily mean that it isn’t effective.”

    “the fact that searching her underwire did not show plastique-based silicon does not necessarily mean that they aren’t fake.”

    this is fun!

    P Brooks: good call! But let’s say that the drunk driver… aw hell. Proof of two faced answer there. Good call.

  12. Joe, all they had to do was say “Hey, we’ve got DUI roadblocks somewhere in this area,” and they’d have the deterrent, even if they set them up in random places.

    It’s still a stupid idea, but not as stupid as you say.

  13. Ahh, Libertarians and their game theory…

    (actually, understanding game theory is very important. Laws’ effects are the incentives they create, not the rules and penalties they contain, and understanding the effect of incentives is key to understanding why most laws create more problems than they solve, and why many problems are best solved without recourse to laws).

  14. Why were 2 percent of the vehicles impounded? That is the scariest part of this story.

  15. John, the problem with the deterrence argument is that these roadblocks are set up randomly. The point is that unwitting drivers are supposed to stumble into them. This strategy undermines the possibility of a deterrence effect, just like “speed traps” vs. visible patrols.

    I disagree – the idea that a roadblock could pop-up at seemingly random places and times is an excellent deterrent. It prevents people from thinking – “well, it’s just a Tuesday night, I can drink a little too much and still drive home because the police only do checkpoints on Saturdays…”

  16. I am not detered by any of this. If I choose to break a law I will do so. One can get away with anything so long as one is cool about it. Ask any politician. Law enforcement took the attitude of Big Brother long ago. Many have hated them a long time. One day, it will come down on their ears. Don’t do anything you are not ready to fight about folks. The army of the wild people’s grows every day. Government in all forms makes more converts all the time. Tick-tock….a change will come.

  17. I don’t think the concern here is that the roadblocks aren’t effective; it’s the fact that 84 of the 85 law-enforcement actions resulting from the roadblock had nothing to do with its ostensible purpose.

  18. John | January 17, 2007, 9:32am | #
    True Joe and don’t mistake me, I hate roadblocks with a passion. I would rather risk being killed by a drunk driver than have my freedom taken away by a papers please society.

    Would that more people felt that way about Gitmo. I would rather risk being killed by a terrorist than have America follow the KGB path. Oh well, too late for that now. >:-(

  19. hey, Lunchstealer:

    nevermind him. He’d side with Rudy in the Chinese Downhill, anyways.

    and he knows what to do. “Not on zis side and not on zat side, but right in ze meedle”

    (also known as the Barry Muzzin of the intellectual world)

  20. I don’t know about that county, but in Louisiana where I live the bars close at 2:00 AM usually.

    Could that have skewed the results since everybody was still out drinking?

  21. This makes me feel like I need a drink.

    And I don’t even drink.

    (between hours of midnight and 4pm)

  22. I don’t think the concern here is that the roadblocks aren’t effective; it’s the fact that 84 of the 85 law-enforcement actions resulting from the roadblock had nothing to do with its ostensible purpose.
    These numbers are wrong. 1599 of the 1600 law-enforcement actions had nothing to do with catching drunk drivers. What would you call an officer stopping a vehicle, visually searching it and interrogating the driver but a law-enforcement action? Doesn’t matter to me if it is in a queue or on the open road, the principal and the action are the same, the police are still stopping and initiating searches on individuals without “probable cause”.

  23. I predict that John won’t return to this thread.

  24. 1599 of the 1600 law-enforcement actions had nothing to do with catching drunk drivers.

    Uh… what? I agree that if we’re going to have drunk driving roadblocks they should only be used to ferret out drunk drivers. No vehicle searches, no questions unrelated to finding out if the driver is drunk. But to call stopping a car and finding out they’re not drunk and letting them go their merry way a “law-enforcement action [having] nothing to do with catching drunk drivers” is a bit of a reach. I think drunk driving is a serious enough problem to take this step. There obviously isn’t enough manpower to follow everyone around looking for swerving drunks so roadblocks will have to do.

    Oh, and I agree stopping the roadblock before last call is a little… dumb.

  25. “John- please print that out and tape it to your monitor, so you can look at it before you post anything about the Global War on Scary Badguys.”

    If you are talking about American citizens, I might agree with you depending on the nature of the terrorist threat. That is the sticking point, what is the threat? The past is of little help, on 9-10-01, the threat sure didn’t look like much at all based on the past. Same is true now. If someone is out there ready to set off a chemical weapon or a nuke, the risk is pretty damned high, if not, then maybe it is not. Look at it this way, on August 1st, 1914, a young male in Europe could look around and think that his chances of dieing a violent death in a war was very small, since there hadn’t been a major war in Europe since 1871. Of course he would have been dead wrong in thinking that. Is is August 1, 1914? I don’t know but it might be and that possibility is a hell of a lot worse than the risk of running into the odd drunk driver.

    Lastly, since when is the government setting up random check points on the roads to try and catch terrorists? I haven’t seen any. As far as GUITMO goes, I frankly could not care less if they hung anyone they found running around on a battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq out of uniform causing mischief. That has been the standard of treatment for terrorists and partisians for all of history and I see no reason to change that now.

  26. Thoreau,

    I would predict you would be wrong and owe me an apology. Since when did you turn into such a jerk?

  27. Yeah, that was over the top. I’m sorry.

  28. “On the morning of March 20, 1995, packages were placed on five different trains in the Tokyo subway system. The packages consisted of plastic bags filled with a chemical mix and wrapped inside newspapers. Once placed on the floor of the subway car, each bag was punctured with a sharpened umbrella tip, and the material was allowed to spill onto the floor of the subway car. As the liquid spread out and evaporated, vaporous agent spread throughout the car.

    “Tokyo was experiencing a coordinated, simultaneous, multi-point assault. The attack was carried out at virtually the same moment at five different locations in the world’s largest city: five trains, many kilometers apart, all converging on the center of Tokyo. The resulting deaths and injuries were spread throughout central Tokyo. First reports came from the inner suburbs and then, very quickly, cries for help began to flow in from one station after another, forming a rapidly tightening ring around the station at Kasumagaseki. This station serves the buildings that house most of the key agencies of the Japanese government. Most of the major ministries, as well as the national police agency, have their headquarters at Kasumagaseki.

    “By the end of that day, 15 subway stations in the world’s busiest subway system had been affected. Of these, stations along the Hbiya line were the most heavily affected, some with as many as 300 to 400 persons involved. The number injured in the attacks was just under 3,800. Of those, nearly 1,000 actually required hospitalization-some for no more than a few hours, some for many days. A very few are still hospitalized. And 12 people were dead.”

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol5no4/olson.htm

    ——

    An actual terrorist nerve gas attack; 12 deaths. Calculate the probability, and convince me that it would be worth spending a nearly infinite amount per life to prevent a negligible risk.

  29. Unlicensed drivers driving without insurance are the majority of those caught up in these DUI check points. They are scheduled to catch the (un-documented) on the way to or from work. The random locations keep them guessing.

  30. “An actual terrorist nerve gas attack; 12 deaths. Calculate the probability, and convince me that it would be worth spending a nearly infinite amount per life to prevent a negligible risk.”

    If I knew the risk I would agree with you. I wish I did. Further, if the government starts stopping me on the street like these road blocks, I will be right there with you in objecting absent some serious justification. I think this kind of thing is a much bigger threat to our freedom than the NSA listening to some guy call Pakistan.

  31. If you check around, there are studies and statistics that show that states without checkpoints have lower drunk driving deaths than ones that do – so there is no real deterrent effect.

    The war on terra, child porn, the war on drugs and drunk driving have become acceptable reasons to bypass the bill of rights – I have no doubt the founders would find that unacceptable and contrary to their intentions.

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