Traffic Safety Checkpoints Reduce Alcohol-Related Vehicle Crashes
Studies by the National High Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control found that alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes in a community can be decreased by up to 20% with properly conducted traffic safety checkpoints, also known as sobriety checkpoints.
A properly conducted checkpoint involves peace officers systematically stopping vehicles passing through a checkpoint to look for signs of impairment, suspended driver licenses, and other serious traffic violations. While checkpoints are effective the U.S. and Kentucky Supreme Courts have established strict standards for checkpoints to avoid violating motorists’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure.
To address a lack of traffic safety checkpoint training and guidance for Kentucky officers, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center’s Kentucky Violence and Injury Prevention Program (KVIPP) developed and published the Kentucky Traffic Safety Checkpoint Guidebook in 2016.
The Guidebook was updated in 2021 due to changes in case law, in particular Runyon v. Commonwealth, a case from the Kentucky Court of Appeals. “That case made some things that were previously best practices for checkpoints, but not an actual legal requirement, mandatory," said Robert McCool, KVIPP program director. "The Kentucky Supreme Court later relaxed the requirements somewhat in their ruling in Meredith v. Commonwealth.” Despite the court’s ruling in Meredith, KVIPP strongly encourages law enforcement agencies to view the best practices as a requirement rather than as guidelines.
“The first edition was well received, but through feedback from Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, and various law enforcement agencies, it was decided to create a training course that covered the content from the Guidebook,” said McCool. KVIPP developed a one-day (8-hour) training course that covers the material presented in the Guidebook. The class includes both classroom training and a practical skills exercise. KVIPP worked with the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training to obtain Kentucky Law Enforcement Council certification for the course, which allows officers to receive continuing education credit for completing the course.
The best practices covered in the Guidebook and the training course help law enforcement agencies ensure that their checkpoints are planned and conducted to meet current legal and safety standards so that cases developed from a checkpoint stand up in court and agencies and officers don’t face potential liability. They also help protect the safety of officers and members of the public during the checkpoint.
The one-day, in-person training addresses the everchanging substance use epidemic as well. KVIPP has added information about substance use and treatment options to the course handouts and discusses those materials during the training course. The course covers what substance use disorder (SUD) is, treatment options that are available for people with SUD, and how officers can work with prosecutors and the justice system to help suspects with SUD get into treatment, either voluntarily or court-mandated. While this information isn’t part of the core content that officers must learn to pass the course test, it provides an opportunity for them to learn about ways to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for individuals charged with impaired driving offenses.
In-person training also allows KVIPP staff members to disseminate the most up-to-date information available. Due to the nature of printed material and the speed with which court rulings and statutes can change, the course almost always includes helpful information that is more current than the information in the latest edition of the Guidebook. (It is still important, however, that those who plan, approve, and supervise checkpoints be familiar with the information in the Guidebook.) Participating in a training course allows participants to ask general questions about the material, pose questions about specific scenarios, and share experiences with other course participants.
The training is primarily designed for leaders and supervisors in law enforcement agencies, as well as for patrol officers who may help to plan checkpoints and/or serve as the officer in charge for a checkpoint. While the training course is primarily designed for senior leaders and supervisors, it is open to any peace officer in the Commonwealth. The training is also beneficial for prosecutors and other public officials within the criminal justice system, as the information may help them to deal with impaired driving cases more effectively.
KVIPP’s goal is to offer the course several times each year in various communities around Kentucky. KVIPP has trained more than 60 officers this year (as of March 2023), with additional course sessions planned.
“We’ve had very positive feedback from officers who attended the course," said McCool. "Numerous graduates have used the information they learned during the course to help their law enforcement agency plan and conduct traffic safety checkpoints.” One participant helped his agency plan a checkpoint that was held a few weeks after he completed training, McCool explained. The officer informed KVIPP that one of the vehicles that was stopped at the checkpoint was driven by a senior state judicial official. The official complimented the officer and his agency on both their effort to reduce impaired driving by conducting the checkpoint and on the very professional way in which the checkpoint was conducted. “That is exactly the sort of result that the Guidebook and Course were designed to achieve,” said McCool.
The simplest way for law enforcement agencies and individual officers to learn more about the training course, and to register for the course if they would like to attend, is to visit the Kentucky Safety and Prevention Alignment Network (KSPAN) website at www.safekentucky.org, click on the Highway Safety link in the menu bar at the top of the page, and then click on the Law Enforcement Training link. Agency representatives and individual officers can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (859) 257-6741 for more information.
Agencies interested in hosting a course session can e-mail or call to discuss a course date and location. A minimum of eight participants are needed to hold a course session, and the sessions are typically capped at 20 participants to allow for adequate participation in the practical skills portion of the course. There is no cost, either to officers or their agencies, to attend the course.
A copy of the Guidebook is available online at the KSPAN website and also at: transportation.ky.gov/HighwaySafety/Documents/Traffic_Safety_Checkpoint_Guide.pdf.
KVIPP is funded by CDC grant NU17CE010064 and is part of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC)—a unique partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health. KIPRC serves both as an academic injury prevention research center and as a bona fide agent of DPH for statewide injury prevention and control. For more information, visit safekentucky.org or join us @KentuckySPAN .