Optimizing sobriety checkpoints to maximize public health benefits and minimize operational costs

Inj Epidemiol. 2023 Mar 13;10(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s40621-023-00427-8.


Background: Sobriety checkpoints are a highly effective strategy to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, but they are used infrequently in the USA. Recent evidence from observational studies suggests that using optimized sobriety checkpoints-operating for shorter duration with fewer officers-can minimize operational costs without reducing public health benefits. The aim of this research was to conduct a pilot study to test whether police can feasibly implement optimized sobriety checkpoints and whether researchers can examine optimized sobriety checkpoints compared to usual practice within a non-randomized controlled trial study design.

Methods: The study site was the Town of Apex, NC. We worked with Apex Police Department to develop a schedule of sobriety checkpoints during calendar year 2021 that comprised 2 control checkpoints (conducted according to routine practice) and 4 optimized checkpoints staffed by fewer officers. Our primary operations aim was to test whether police can feasibly implement optimized sobriety checkpoints. Our primary research aim was to identify barriers and facilitators for conducting an intervention study of optimized sobriety checkpoints compared to usual practice. A secondary aim was to assess motorist support for sobriety checkpoints and momentary stress while passing through checkpoints.

Results: Apex PD conducted 5 of the 6 checkpoints and reported similar operational capabilities and results during the optimized checkpoints compared to control checkpoints. For example, a mean of 4 drivers were investigated for possibly driving while impaired at the optimized checkpoints, compared to 2 drivers at control checkpoints. The field team conducted intercept surveys among 112 motorists at 4 of the 6 checkpoints in the trial schedule. The survey response rate was 11% from among 1,045 motorists who passed through these checkpoints. Over 90% of respondents supported sobriety checkpoints, and momentary stress during checkpoints was greater for motorists who reported consuming any alcohol in the last 90 days compared to nondrinkers (OR = 6.7, 95%CI: 1.6, 27.1).

Conclusions: Results of this study indicate the sobriety checkpoints can feasibly be optimized by municipal police departments, but it will be very difficult to assess the impacts of optimized checkpoints compared to usual practice using an experimental study design.

Keywords: Alcohol; Drunk driving; Intervention; Optimization; Sobriety checkpoints.