We all know the dangers of drinking and driving - all of us do! So, then, why do so many of us do it? The answer is twofold. First, we choose to drive after consuming alcohol if we feel we are sober enough to get someplace without getting into a crash, and secondly, only if we feel confident that we can make it without getting caught. Unfortunately, our thinking and logic are distorted with alcohol, so the very decisions we make after drinking are not made responsibly.
Because police can't be everywhere, your chances of being caught while driving under the influence of alcohol are statistically quite low; however, those chances rise significantly where officials conduct regular sobriety checkpoints. This is the major finding of an international review by the Centers for Disease Control of 23 studies of checkpoints.
Despite differences across studies in design, periods of observation and outcome measures evaluated, the results were generally consistent, that checkpoints reduced the crashes involving alcohol by about 20 percent. Checkpoints conducted on both urban and rural roads were effective.
The researchers studied two types of checkpoints - those involving random breath tests at which every driver passing through is tested (roadblocks) and those at which police must have reasonable cause (roving saturation patrols). Both types are very effective in reducing crashes involving drivers who had consumed alcohol.
Checkpoints are mainly about deterrence and increase the perception among drivers that arrest is a good possibility if they drink and drive. They counter a driver's belief that he or she can drive well enough after drinking to avoid being apprehended. Seeing a checkpoint in progress or going through one, or just reading in the newspaper that checkpoints will be conducted, reinforces in drivers' minds that enforcement has been stepped up and arrest is likely.
In Franklin County, the STOP DWI program organizes checkpoints frequently throughout the year. Some are announced, but most are not. They often target the likely times and places for increased drinking and driving, including the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival and the Franklin County Fair. Holiday weekends are also likely targets.
So, the next time you see a DWI checkpoint, be thankful for it - it may be your lifesaver. Next week, the final article on drinking and driving, we will detail Sweden's tough DWI initiatives.
Meanwhile, drink if you want, but don't drink and drive!