It is spring time in Kansas City, which means that it is DUI Checklane season in Kansas and Missouri. Soon, 30 to 40 police officers will gather to set up a way to stop hundreds or thousands of motorists on a weekend night to sniff them out for drinking or taking drugs, despite the fact that they usually don’t get many arrests for their effort. Several states have recognized that this tactic is generally ineffective and a huge waste of time. Legislators in North Dakota are currently voting on a measure which would outlaw DUI checklanes in that state, according to news reports. North Dakota would join Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming as the states which have banned DUI roadblocks. “The cold hard fact… is that sobriety checkpoints are terrible at apprehending drunk drivers,” state Representative Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), the North Dakota bill’s sponsor, says. “They fail miserably at apprehending. There’s really not much debate on that aspect.” The lawmaker has pointed to a study that showed 63 percent of individuals with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08 were able to slip through a roadblock undetected. It also seems clear in the age of cell phones and social media that law enforcement is not able to keep the locations of their DUI checklanes secret for long and people are able to avoid them altogether. The NYPD recently threatened makers of the app Waze for allowing users to alert others to the existence of police sobriety checklanes. This is laughable, of course, but demonstrates the problem facing the police in the age of technology.
The United State Supreme Court ruled decades ago that checklanes were legal. It seems Un-American to many people to stop hundreds of law abiding citizens without probable cause to believe that they are doing anything wrong, and this is the exact sort of thing that led the founders of our country to start a revolution and draw up a constitution that prevented such governmental intrusion upon the liberty of citizens. Regardless of whether they are legal or constitutional, it is clear that DUI checklanes are not effective at catching people who are driving under the influence of alcohol. DUI saturation patrols, in which dozens of officers go out on patrol specifically looking for drunk drivers and only stop those drivers who commit a traffic violation, are much more likely to discover and apprehend people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It also makes it far more likely that those drivers who are sober and not violating any laws are allowed to travel freely and without intrusion by the government.
DUI checklanes in Kansas are likely to remain a staple of the spring and summer. There is far too much money involved, with large grants being offered to put on these productions, not to mention the chance for 30-40 police officers to be paid overtime to run a checklane every time one is funded. Johnson County has DUI checklanes in Mission and Overland Park, and sometimes on K-10, as well as other places throughout the county. Wyandotte County has hosted checklanes on K-7 in Bonner Springs recently. In KCMO, checklanes are usually around Westport, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, in the northeast around Independence Avenue, in the area of 70th and Troost, and wherever else law enforcement might decide to throw one together.