Sobriety Checkpoint Laws: What You Need to Know

There are 38 states where police can set up traffic roadblocks, stop you and observe whether you have been drinking. If suspected of being under the influence you may be asked to step out of your car and consent to a sobriety check. And if you refuse a test you state may automatically suspend your license and impose a fine.

Such checkpoints are part of wider drunk driver deterrence programs typically initiated at the state level and enforced locally. Checkpoints or roadblocks are often identified by warning lights and signs with vehicles queued in lines for officers to check each one or a select number such as every fifth vehicle.

Off-Hour and Holiday Checkpoints

They’re usually set up at night, in the early morning hours, on weekends, and on select holidays when drinking rates spike. At certain times of the year, they may be an extension of a federal drive sober or get pulled over a campaign that kicks in around the Christmas-New Year season and again on major holidays such as Independence Day and Labor Day.

In 12 states sobriety checkpoints are not administered and may be prohibited by state law or by the Constitution. Indeed, in Texas, such checkpoints are considered illegal based on the states’ interpretation of the US constitution.

How each state conducts sobriety checkpoints varies widely across the nation. Well take a look at various state laws as assembled by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and conclude with legal guidance to help protect your rights after a sobriety checkpoint arrest.


See AlsoAll About Sobriety Checkpoints


Sobriety Checkpoint Frequency

The adjoining states of Arizona and California both allow sobriety checkpoints, but the frequency of roadblocks varies sharply. In Arizona, checkpoints are administered at least once per month. In California, the state conducts more than 2,500 checkpoints annually for an average of more than seven per day across the Golden State.

Other states that parallel Arizona in frequency include New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Nevada, Kansas, and Missouri where such tests are conducted once or twice per month. In Utah, roadblocks are set up about every other month.


See AlsoHow to Fight Back Against Drunk Drivers


Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia conduct weekly sobriety checks. Among the more aggressive states include Pennsylvania and Illinois which claim several hundred checks per year, Nebraska with six to 10 per month, and Massachusetts and Ohio, which report that checks are conducted throughout the year.

In Delaware, sobriety checks are conducted monthly for the first six months of the year and then weekly for the last six months. Head to Florida and there are 15 to 20 checkpoints held each month. In New Hampshire, roadblocks are set up weekly, weather permitting.

Roadblock Legality

Sobriety checkpoints are often challenged by opponents with these cases often winding up being heard by the highest law in the land the respective state’s supreme court. Kentucky, California, Mississippi, and Maine are among the states where they’ve been upheld under the US constitution.

In Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, and South Dakota, sobriety checkpoints are upheld under both federal and state constitutions. Nevada, North Carolina, and Hawaii checkpoint laws have been upheld by state statute.

Alaska does not conduct sobriety checks because it says the state has no authority to do so. Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are among the states where roadblocks are illegal or no authority has been given to the state. And in the state of Washington, a 1988 ruling made such roadblocks illegal under certain conditions.

Sobriety Checkpoint Arrest

Even where legal, roadblocks must carefully follow guidelines including those recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For example, roadblocks may not impede the flow of traffic and should be set up to allow drivers to avoid the checkpoint. They cannot distract drivers and roadblocks should be clearly marked with law enforcement personnel making their presence clearly known. The process should be applied uniformly and stopped drivers should be asked for their feedback.

If you are arrested, do not speak to the police without your attorney present. Never give a written statement without your attorney’s consent. Contact an attorney immediately and be prepared to collect and document your own evidence. Sobriety checkpoints may be legal, but your guilt is not automatic.


See AlsoDUI and Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Photo courtesy of Versageek.

Andrew Bowman is a professional blogger that provides information on the criminal and civil case process. He writes for Banks Banks, Attorneys at Law, P.C., the top criminal defense and civil attorneys in College Station TX.

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