Better Safe Than Sorry: What to Expect at DUI Checkpoints
Many of us have experienced nervousness when approaching a DUI checkpoint.
Even if we’ve done nothing wrong, the thought of getting pulled over due to some trivial reason enters our minds. It’s enough to give some people the jitters.
A criminal charge stemming from a stop at a sobriety checkpoint can have devastating consequences, especially for those who rely on maintaining a license for work.
Understand the protocol officers must follow and you could be in for a smoother ride. The more you know about DUI checkpoints, the less there is to fear. If your stop ends in an arrest, knowing your rights can be beneficial to your case. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Here’s more information about DUI checkpoints and what to expect when driving through them.
What are DUI checkpoints?
First, the basics. Sobriety checkpoints are areas where police officers are set up on roads to stop vehicles and check for impaired drivers. This usually takes place during time periods when high amounts of drinking are known to occur, such as holidays and long weekends. Checkpoints are assembled at fixed locations. Officers pull over vehicles based on a pre-determined frequency. This could be every vehicle or every two or three. The officer will have a brief exchange with the driver. If after this initial encounter the officer suspects the driver to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer may request a field sobriety test and portable breath test. An officer with probable cause can then arrest the driver who appears intoxicated.
Why are there checkpoints?
Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of DUI checkpoints isn’t to increase alcohol- or drug-related driving arrests. The State uses the checkpoint as a tool to deter impaired driving. Police have to publicize information about when and where the checkpoint will be operational.
A review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argues that checkpoints reduce the number of alcohol-related fatal, injury, and property damage crashes each by 20%. Further analysis showed checkpoints reduce all alcohol-related crashes by 17% and crashes overall by 10-15%.
Anatomy of a roadblock
When selecting a checkpoint site, authorities must keep two things in mind. First, the site needs to be safe for both drivers and officers. The checkpoint cannot create a traffic hazard. Second, the site must be chosen objectively based on alcohol- and drug-related crash statistics. It can’t just be set up anywhere, like outside of a bar, in order to catch more impaired drivers. A checkpoint location must be based on data. Advance notice of sobriety checkpoints can be found on the Colorado Department of Transportation website.
There should be plenty of warning given when approaching a checkpoint. This often comes in the form of signs, lights, safety cones, flares, and the presence of uniformed officers and patrol cars with their lights flashing. Officers operating checkpoints will often section off a part of the road, forcing traffic to merge into one or two lanes. It should be noted that you’re under no obligation to pass through a checkpoint. Prior to entering the checkpoint, there will be an escape route. Deciding not to drive through a checkpoint isn’t grounds to be stopped. If you do break a traffic law while avoiding a stop, however, you may be cited for the violation and questioned about alcohol and drug use.
Process of a police check
Officers operating a checkpoint need to follow a pattern for stopping vehicles. A frequency must be established. If they decide to check every driver, then every vehicle needs to be stopped. If they check every three drivers, they must stop every third vehicle and let the others pass. Only a supervisor can determine if the pattern needs to change. If traffic begins to backup or another issue arises, then at that time the supervisor can alter the pattern of stopping vehicles. Before getting to the officer, you will have to negotiate a set of cones to test your driving skills. If selected for a stop, the officer must inform you of the purpose of the stop. You may be asked to present your license and registration, which you are legally obligated to provide. Expect to be asked if you have consumed alcohol or taken any controlled substances that day. If you answer “no” and the officer has no other reason to detain you or your vehicle, you should be allowed to proceed through the checkpoint. If you answer “yes,” you will be asked how much drug or alcohol you consumed and when you last consumed. The officer may choose to investigate further depending on your answers to these questions. The officer will also be looking at you for clues of intoxication. If the officer wishes to investigate your situation more fully, he will direct you away from traffic. Otherwise, you are free to go. The following are a list of clues the officer will be looking at to determine whether to detain you.
- The smell of alcohol or drugs
- Alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia
- Bloodshot eyes
- Slurred speech
- Fumbling fingers
- Slow reaction
- Inconsistent responses to questions
- Difficulty presenting license and registration.
If an officer suspects you are impaired or high based on this exchange, you will be asked to exit your car for further investigation.
Roadside sobriety tests
Now that you are out of your car, expect the officer to ask you to take a series of roadside sobriety tests. These consist of tasks that test your coordination, concentration, and reaction time to help the officer determine whether or not you’re impaired to drive. You may also be asked to take a portable breath test. The following are some of the tests you may be asked to perform.
- One Legged Stand The officer is noting your ability to follow instructions, watching your balance, and listening to your speech as you perform this test.
- Nystagmus Test The officer is noting your ability to follow instructions, watching your balance, and looking for eye movements indicating impairment.
- Walk and Turn The officer is noting your ability to follow instructions, watching your balance, and listening to your speech as you perform this test.
- Finger-to-Nose Test The officer is noting your ability to follow instructions, watching your balance, and watching for what part of your finger you are touching to what part of your nose.
- The Alphabet and Counting Backward The officer is noting your ability to follow instructions, watching your balance, and listening to your speech as you perform this test.
All roadside tests are optional. You may decline to take them without any legal consequence. If you do take roadside sobriety tests, the results will be used against you in court. If you have any question about your ability to perform these tests, don’t volunteer to do them.
Express Consent Advisement
If the officer determines you are impaired, you will be arrested for the appropriate charge of either driving under the influence, driving while ability impaired, or underage drinking and driving. You will be advised of the Colorado Express Consent law. Under this advisement, you will be given the choice of a blood test or breath test. If drug use is suspected, you will be given the choice of a blood test. In general, the consequences are less for giving a test than refusing a blood or breath test. Often it is to your advantage to give a blood test or breath test, rather than refusing a test.