Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Sobriety checkpoints under attack in AB 1389

By David Ragland

With the passage of Assembly Bill 1389 in the General Assembly and its imminent consideration by the State Senate, I feel compelled to set out a few facts that may have been lost in the discussion.

The bill’s sponsor, Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa), and other supporters of the proposal argue that the state’s sobriety checkpoint program is specifically targeting undocumented persons by siting checkpoints in heavily Latino areas and unfairly impounding vehicles for driver license violations.

Checkpoint locations are based on the degree of DUI violations and crashes. These can be easily tracked now, thanks to our recently launched crash mapping Web site for California, http://www.tims.berkeley.edu.

The second argument states that because there are relatively few DUI arrests, the checkpoints are not truly targeting DUI offenders. Quite the opposite. A comprehensive checkpoint program such as the one run by our California agencies combines education with enforcement: by raising motorists’ awareness of the risk of arrest for DUI, they prevent DUI from happening.

Study after study has shown that this approach saves lives and dollars. They reduce DUI fatalities by, on average, 20 percent. In California, that translates into more than 300 lives saved each year.

Another argument states that it is unfair to target unlicensed drivers, and that doing so imposes an unfair economic burden on people who are already struggling. We recognize the importance of balancing personal freedom with enforcement of rules to protect the public’s health. That is why it is so crucial that people understand the seriousness of driving without a license.

There is nothing wrong if sobriety checkpoints find people who are “only” driving without a license.

According to “Unlicensed to Kill,” a definitive study of the problem published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, from 1993 to 1999, an average of a little more than 8,000 people were killed each year in driving-without-a-license crashes. That’s 20 percent of all fatal crashes. (By comparison, DUI drivers are involved in 32 percent.)

Compared with licensed drivers, unlicensed drivers are 4.9 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash; 3.7 times more likely to drive while impaired; and 4.4 times more likely to be in hit-and-run crashes.

Studies have shown that checkpoints help remove unlicensed drivers from the road and save lives. That is why our center applied to help administer the grants for the California program. DWL is a huge problem, and one that is growing. It’s time we raised public awareness and did the same for DWL that Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others did for DUI.

Here are some maps that show dui crashes, checkpoints and Hispanic population percentages:

checkpoint maps and dui crashes and hispanic population concentrations

second sobriety cp map

3rd scp map

4th scp map