Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving: Publicized Sobriety Checkpoint Programs
Task Force Finding
Read the full Task Force Finding and Rationale Statement for details including implementation issues, possible added benefits, potential harms, and evidence gaps.
Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs are a form of high visibility enforcement where law enforcement officers stop drivers systematically to assess their degree of alcohol impairment. Media efforts to publicize the enforcement activity are an integral part of these programs. The program goal is to reduce alcohol-impaired driving by increasing the public's perceived risk of arrest while also arresting alcohol-impaired drivers identified at checkpoints.
There are two types of sobriety checkpoints:
- Selective Breath Testing (SBT) - police must have reason to suspect that a stopped driver is intoxicated before a breath test can be requested. SBT is used in the United States.
- Random Breath Testing (RBT) – all stopped drivers are given breath tests for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. RBT is used in Australia and several European countries.
About the Systematic Review
The Task Force finding is based on evidence from a Community Guide systematic review published in 2001 (Shults et al., 23 studies, search period January 1980 to June 2000) combined with more recent evidence (15 studies, search period July 2000 to March 2012). It updates and replaces the 2000 review on Sobriety Checkpoints.
The effectiveness evidence is based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to reducing alcohol-impaired driving.
The following results are from studies identified during the updated search period.
Fourteen studies evaluated programs conducted in the United States.
- Crash fatalities thought to involve alcohol: median relative decrease of 8.9% associated with selective breath testing checkpoints (inter-quartile interval [IQI]: 16.3% to 3.5%; 10 studies)
- Ratio of alcohol-involved drivers to non-alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes: relative decrease of 14% (1 study)
- Fatal and non-fatal crashes thought to involve alcohol: relative decrease of 18.8% (1 study)
- Drivers with a BAC level above the legal limit: relative decreases of 28% and 64% (2 studies)
- Public awareness of checkpoints: the relative increase in the percentage of people from the intervention community who had seen or heard messages about drinking and driving or sobriety checkpoints ranged from 4% to 32% (6 studies)
One study evaluated a program conducted in New Zealand.
- Serious and fatal nighttime crashes, which serve as a proxy for alcohol-involved fatal crashes: relative decrease of 22% associated with random breath testing checkpoints (1 study)
Sixteen studies were included in the economic review (4 from the 2000 review and 12 from the updated search period). Evidence was combined because some of the studies from the updated search period evaluated sobriety checkpoint programs conducted during the period covered by the 2000 review.
Of the 16 included studies, seven reported cost and benefit findings on actual operation of the sobriety checkpoints alone, eight reported costs or cost-effectiveness information on media advertising and publicity alone, and one reported costs for both operations and media. All monetary values are reported in 2011 U.S. dollars using the Consumer Price Index and Purchasing Power Parities from the World Bank for international currencies.
- Cost-benefit estimates of sobriety checkpoint programs:
- Benefit-to-cost ratios for selective breath testing checkpoint interventions: 6:1 and 23:1 (2 studies)
- Benefit-to-cost ratios for random breath testing checkpoint interventions: 2:1 to 57:1 (3 studies)
- Cost-effectiveness estimates of sobriety checkpoint programs:
- $5,787 per alcohol-involved motor vehicle crash averted (1 study)
- $35,146 to $40,168 per percentage point reduction in nighttime drivers with BAC ≥0.08g/dl (1 study)
- $1,723 per percentage point reduction in self-reported driving after drinking (1 study)
- Costs of media advertising and publicity ranged from $1 to $82 per 100 persons (9 studies).
- Estimated cost-effectiveness of media advertising and publicity ranged from $29 to $257 per additional 100 persons who became aware of the sobriety checkpoint program (5 studies).
Considerations for Implementation
The following considerations are drawn from studies included in the evidence review, the broader literature, and expert opinion. The Community Guide does not conduct systematic reviews of implementation.
- As of April 2014, there are legal restrictions against using checkpoints in 12 states: Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming. These states have decided that checkpoints are illegal under either the state law or constitution, not authorized by state law, or illegal under the state's interpretation of the federal constitution.
- An integral part of publicized sobriety checkpoint programs is the use of media, either paid ads or news stories (i.e. "earned" media), to publicize the program and increase the population's perceived risk of arrest for alcohol-impaired driving.
- Six of the included studies reported increases ranging from 4% to 32% in the percent of people from a targeted community who had seen or heard messages about drinking and driving or checkpoints following implementation.
- Securing the necessary law enforcement staff to implement sobriety checkpoints may present a challenge to implementation. Law enforcement agencies are often understaffed and their attention and resources are divided.
- Sobriety checkpoints are typically conducted during times when alcohol-impaired drivers are most likely to be on the roads, such as weekend evenings, and staff overtime is often required.
- Sobriety checkpoints are harder and potentially more dangerous to implement during adverse weather conditions as checkpoints require law enforcement personnel to stand outside.
- Law enforcement may be less supportive of sobriety checkpoints because they can result in fewer arrests of impaired drivers compared to other forms of high visibility enforcement, such as saturation patrols.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published Saturation Patrols & Sobriety Checkpoints: A How-to Guide for Planning and Publicizing Impaired Driving Enforcement Effects. This guide recommends selecting a site for conducting checkpoints by identifying locations that have a high incidence of impaired driving-related crashes or fatalities and are safe for both law enforcement and motor vehicle occupants. Vehicles are randomly selected (e.g., every fifth vehicle) for driver assessment and standardized methods are used for determining who and how to test for alcohol. These precautions can help avoid implementation concerns about racial profiling by ensuring that sites, vehicles, and drivers are selected based on standardized procedures, and that the methods used to detect impaired drivers are not left up to an individual officer's discretion.
- Analytic Framework* [PDF - 110 kB]
- Evidence Gaps
- Summary evidence table – Economic Review* [PDF - 62 kB]
- Included studies – Effectiveness Review
- Included studies – Economic Review
- Search Strategy
Shults RA, Elder RW, Sleet DA, et al. Reviews of evidence regarding interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. [PDF - 2.29 MB] Am J Prev Med 2001;21(4S):66–88.
Bergen G, Pitan A, Qu S, Shults RA, Chattopadhyay SK, Elder RW, Sleet DA, Coleman HL, Compton RP, Nichols JL, Clymer JM, Calvert WB, Community Preventive Services Task Force. Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs: a Community Guide systematic review [PDF - 311 kB]. Am J Prev Med 2014;46(5):529-39.
Community Preventive Services Task Force. Publicized sobriety checkpoint programs to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. Recommendation of the Community Preventive Services Task Force [PDF - 93 kB]. Am J Prev Med 2014;46(5):540-1.
Read other Community Guide publications about Motor Vehicle-Related Injury Prevention in our library.
Community Guide News
- Community Preventive Services Task Force Recommends Publicized Sobriety Checkpoints to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving
Developed by The Community Guide in collaboration with CDC's Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
More promotional materials for Community Guide reviews about Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving.
*PDF includes all of the information available and will not be updated.
The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.
The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Reducing alcohol-impaired driving: publicized sobriety checkpoint programs. www.thecommunityguide.org/mvoi/AID/sobrietyckpts.html. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.
Review completed: August 2012
- Page last reviewed: May 1, 2014
- Page last updated: May 1, 2014
- Content source: The Guide to Community Preventive Services