New Bill Will Abolish Sobriety Checkpoints

Free Stater Rep. Seth Cohn, who portrayed himself as a Republican to the voters of my district, Merrimack-06, has a new bill. It would abolish the sobriety checkpoints that catch drunk drivers.

Last year our state suffered the fewest highway fatalities in 51 years. Considering the difference in population between then and now, that is quite an achievement.

Rep. Cohn’s bill empowers drunk drivers and threatens the safety of our family and friends.

It is exhibit A of why you need to begin talking to everyone in your community now about recruiting candidates, voting these reckless individuals out, and bringing common sense back to Concord.

(find me > 140 on birch paper; on Twitter < 140)

27 Responses to New Bill Will Abolish Sobriety Checkpoints

  1. StraffordDem January 29, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Caption contest

    • SethCohn January 30, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

      “Seth mourns the death of a hobbit, during his quest to toss the Ring of Power into Mordor.”

      (That picture was taken during a mock funeral for the Libertarian Party, when they nominated Barr for president.  One reason I left the LP shortly thereafter.)

      Have fun… I look forward to the humor.  Be nice.

      (Paul and Tully have written awesome responses to Dean on the bill itself, so I don’t feel the need to write more.  They get it.)

      • cblodg January 30, 2012 at 8:23 pm #
      • Kathy Sullivan 2 January 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

        More like on your way to give the ring to Sauron.

    • Mike Hoefer January 31, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      Seth has shown some good humor here, but I don’t think we want BH to a place where any one of our 400+ elected state reps has to worry about an out of context photo showing up while we try to be witty about it.

      • Hampshire Ite January 31, 2012 at 11:25 am #

        … When said state rep has gone out of his way to be civil and find common cause with folks here. There are some big disagreements between liberals and libertarian-minded folks, but there are some fundamental areas of agreement and sympathy that should not be overlooked. It’s not giving up your principles to work with folks who believe differently — it’s the essence of democracy. (And one of the reasons things in the U.S. have gone so kooky over the last 15-20 years or so.)

        • susanthe February 1, 2012 at 1:14 am #

          For those who are admonishing:

          Once we’ve taken over the state government, we can slash state and local budgets, which make up a sizeable proportion of the tax and regulatory burden we face every day. Furthermore, we can eliminate substantial federal interference by refusing to take highway funds and the strings attached to them. Once we’ve accomplished these things, we can bargain with the national government over reducing the role of the national government in our state. We can use the threat of secession as leverage to do this.

          The stated goal of the Free State Project, by founder Jason Sorens.

          Short term common cause, maybe. Long term? Absolutely not. These people want to destroy everything good about our state.  

  2. mevansnh January 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Great campaign slogan for 2012.

  3. Paul Twomey January 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    All independent studies have shown that the stopping of citizens for no reason whatsoever is not only not an effective way of combating DWI, but is markedly less effective than simply putting officers on patrol and having them look for actual signs of impairment. The overall effect of sobriety checkpoints is to remove cops from effective policing and largely waste their time.

    Furthermore, the conviction rate of checkpoint cases is abysmal, in large part because of the lack of observations of impaired driving prior to the stop. Almost any cop or prosecutor will tell you the same things.

    And if effective use of scarce resources doesnt do it for you, it is helpful to remember that there is a reason that we have a fourth amendment to the US constitution and a similar provision in the state constitution. Both stand for the quaint proposition that the police and the state may not seize or search citizens in the absence of a particularized reason to do so.

    Why do local departments use this tactic if it doesn’t work? One reason only– the federal government gives them lots of money to do so. They get grants that pay for all the time of all the cops and they get access to grants for equipment (mobile alcohol testing van, etc). So it is a case of ‘free’ money trumping effective law enforcement– a battle that money  too often wins.

    • Dean Barker January 29, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

      You speak of conviction rates. I’m more invested in deterrence.

      My career has been with young adults.  Over the past 13 years or so of teaching them I have become accustomed to their decision-making processes.

      Recent brain research into the development of the frontal lobe and its effect on risk and decision making makes much sense given what I’ve seen.

      Someone our age might not drink and drive because they recognize it is wrong, or illegal, etc…

      Someone with a still developing frontal lobe may be much more influenced by the simple deterrence of knowing they could get stopped at a check point.

      Two of the most worrisome times of the school year for those who work with high schoolers is prom night and graduation day. Those are the times where we pray that all the work we have done trying to inculcate making good and responsible decisions sticks.

      If the deterrence of a sobriety check point helps keep people, especially potential victims of drunken drivers, alive, I am all for it.

      • Douglas E. Lindner January 30, 2012 at 12:32 am #

        But leads to the same slippery slope as airport security–except that this is much harder to avoid.

      • Douglas E. Lindner January 30, 2012 at 12:42 am #

        NYPD has instituted a “stop and frisk” policy–the same thing for pedestrians, but not about drunkenness. They do it all the time, but essentially only in certain neighborhoods, and only to certain kinds of people.

        • Dean Barker January 30, 2012 at 1:30 am #

          Pedestrians aren’t killing innocent people at high speeds on highways while drunk.

          I am willing to be inconvenienced on a rare occasion by a cop to show I’m sober if the deterrence factor for others means one fewer  person who dies before their time on a public road.

          • Paul Twomey January 30, 2012 at 2:08 am #

            In fact the  evidence points the other way–  far more deterrence from regular patrols .

            As for protecting the young, the very immaturity of the judgment centers in the brain make deterrence ineffiective. As a society we seem to all too quickly accept a law enforcement model of dealing with things we dont like , often in the face of considerable evidence that it is inefective and wasteful. (There is a thopughtful article that touches  on this in the current New Yorker– Mass Incarceration and Justice in America


            There is a wealth of information that suggests that a treatment modality is the only effective way to reduce rates of substancce abuse. The last eight years in Portugal, which decriminalized possession of all drugs and put the money into treament has shown a marked decrease in adddiction rates.

            And finally, even if you are willing to trade off your right to be free of baseless seizures, you can do so by driving yourself to a police station anytime you want. I am not sure that people who feel otherwise should have to give up their freedoms because you feel this way. no matter how many people make poor self destructive choices, I would rather live in a free country.

            (One thing checkpoints do teach the young is that they will get harassed at them to a far greater extent than their elders– I was once stopped at the same checkpoint as my teenage daughter. Her stop lasted about ten times as long as mine as the officer repreatledly asked her to consent to a search of her entire car, all of course with no reason other than the fact that he thought he could do that to a teen with impunity.)

        • hannah January 30, 2012 at 2:31 am #

          one year. Of course, New York City being filthy rich, they don’t mind paying out almost half a billion in civil judgments in one year.  Though, the corporate counsel, a former sports attorney, did suggest that the payouts were getting unaffordable and the tort laws would have to be changed.
          The arrogance of the 1% is incredible and their ability to suborn law enforcement to keep the populace in line is also quite astounding.  But then, property has always trumped human rights from the start. Some members of the SCOTUS are probably convinced that only the rights mentioned in the Amendments count and since privacy isn’t enumerated, it doesn’t exist.

      • hannah January 30, 2012 at 2:21 am #

        they should not be given permits to drive an automotive vehicle on the public roads. Restricting the mobility of innocents and wasting their time cannot be excused on the grounds that someone else is irresponsible.
        Many young people get killed or maimed for life in car crashes.  That’s a waste of the community’s investment in their rearing and education.
        However, the answer is to keep them out of cars and out of holding menial jobs instead of attending to their studies, besides.
        None of my three children learned to drive before they left home.  They are all three educated, married and raising healthy families.
        Putting humans in cages on wheels and having them drive in an endless circuit between home, workplace and the gas station is no way to run a meaningful society. It does, however, make it easier to keep people under control.  

    • NH_expat January 30, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      In my view, sobriety checkpoints violate motorists’ freedom from unlawful searches and seizures.  Several states have banned them outright, either by statute or by judicial precedent, and I think New Hampshire should join their ranks.

  4. Tully Fitzsimmons January 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    I think this is a classic example of where FreeStatePhobia causes people who are normally civil libertarians to take pro-police state stances simply as a knee-jerk reaction against anything “the other side” does.  THIS is a place where Progressives and Libertarians should be on the same side of the issue.

    The Fourth Amendent is clear in the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, and yet, we have become so complacent when it comes to police vs. motorist activities that we have actually come to believe that it is reasonable to pull over a driver and search their being “for the hell of it,” without any suspicion whatsoever.  It is NOT reasonable, and it is frightening to me to think that the Gestapo can pull over whoever they want, whenever they want, and search.  THATS what a sobriety check-point is.

    I have been pulled over and detained by police for over an hour and run through multiple FBI databases for the ‘crime’ of driving with my minority daughter in the front seat. I was told by a member of the focre (speaking on the condition of ‘anonymity’) that it was assumed I was pimping because there are so few young, nice-looking black women in Swanzey.

    Sorry, I have no love remaining for the police force in this state…and most liberals would normally agree with me.  Unfortunately, the pragmatic politics of this state has moved Democrats into the position of being a friend of the police force rather than standing for the civil liberties that have so often characterizeda liberal mindset.

    Rep. Cohn is absolutely right on this one, and we should say so.

  5. Tom C January 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Should be a line from a bad WWII Gestapo movie, but instead we get stopped for no reason in the middle of driving a long lonely highway in NH. It is an unacceptable intrusion on our liberty. I do not trust the police enough to give them the right to stop me whenever and wherever they’d like.

    And we can’t use the “Fact Resistant” label on our Republican colleagues if we ignore the studies that show no deterrence and that other things police could be doing are better. Our success in limiting traffic deaths has more to do with 20 years of “Designated Driver” education than these un-constitutional checkpoints.

  6. The Money Magician January 30, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    Saying “there are studies” doesn’t count.  Point at what the heck you are talking about.  This happens a lot on Blue Hampshire, hence this rant.

    The definitive paper on this, AFAICT, is the 2001 Shults, et al. research that reviewed 13 studies of sobriety checkpoint effectiveness.  Their finding was to the contrary – that they are effective.

    I don’t have a dog in this race – I just did a little googling to try to find what you are talking about.  This is what I found, by looking for “effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints”.  The Shults paper is cited in the 2001 CDC research update entitled Sobriety Checkpoints Are Effective in Reducing Alcohol-Related Crashes and in the 2009 Public Health Law Research evidence brief Selective Breath Testing Sobriety Checkpoints.

    • GreyMike January 31, 2012 at 2:42 am #

      but I am in favor of empirical evidence in decision-making.

      Personally, I’ve been stopped at these checkpoints a couple of times and suffered no ill effects. Then again, I don’t drink alcohol or use illegal substances, and am not a member of any recognized minority (although native Yankees are becoming scarcer).

      I think they leave us grandpas to the TSA for humiliation.

    • Paul Twomey February 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm #


      The point I was trying to make in each of my comments was that resources are far better directed at increased patrols, which are considerably more effective and don’t involve violating the rights of people without any factual basis. Shuits doesnt address this issue to any degree and appears to me to be based a rather simplistic view of causality.

      Shuits is a review of other studies that purport to show changes in crash rates after various interventions were started in jurisdictions. It does not seem to me at least to even consider the point I was making– which is that putting your resources into increased patrolling (which can be accompanied by a public awareness program) can achieve the same type of general deterrence as any other such program including checkpoints, at a lower cost and involving to violence to the constitutional right to be free of unreasonable seizures. I cannot find a singly sentence that even mentions enhanced patrolling in the article– and a word search on the study turns up not a single use of either patrol or patrolling.

      Furthermore the study seems to suffer from a flawed methodology. As  far as I can tell without looking at the underlying studies, it fails to address the problem that all of the interventions it looks at were being initiated virtually simultaneously. Thus while crashes may have dropped after sobriety checkpoints first began to be used, this was also the time that lower BAC’s, different standards for younger drivers, etc were all introduced. ( All the policy changes were initially implemented starting in the early 80’s and all of the studies date from that period, and shortly after.) I dont know how the Shuit study can be considered to establish which of the changes is responsible for lower crash rates. Temporal proximity is not causality– I could use the Shuitt method to establish that it was the rise of Rap music in the early 80’s that ’caused’ the lower crash rates.

      2. In terms of your demand for links, I dont feel compelled to provide them in comments, which are, well, comments. A diary is another matter, but commments are often brief observations limited by available time and if you dont like a comment you are free to ignore it. You were able to figure out how to google the question (although strictly speaking , the question I raised was the relative efficacy of checkpoints versus patrol that stop citizens based upon observed behavior. )

      When i enter the terms you googled, I get first the Shuits study, but the very next item is something that actually addressed my point– an article about how enhanced patrolling is far more effective in actually catching offenders. Here’s what it says:

      If you were driving one of the 18,747 vehicles Kansas City police stopped at drunken-driving checkpoints last year, odds are you weren’t arrested.

      In fact, only 1.6 percent of those drivers were arrested for being drunk.

      Police departments around the Kansas City area and the country spend thousands of dollars a year on DUI checkpoints with similar results. While police defend checkpoints as a great public relations tool against drunken driving, there are better ways to catch drunken drivers, experts say.

      Take saturation patrols, where police cruise city streets in search of swerving cars that may be driven by drunks. They are cheaper to conduct and more efficient — for each car that police officers stop, they are almost four times as likely to catch a drunken driver.

      Five of the larger Kansas City area police departments stopped 25,510 vehicles at checkpoints last year, but only 2,765 during saturation patrols. Both efforts produced arrests — traffic tickets, but also outstanding warrants, drug violations and alcohol-related offenses such as driving with an open container. In fact, saturation patrols yielded more charges — 3,100 — than the number of cars stopped. The total arrest rate for the checkpoints: 2.8 percent.

      And the saturation patrols cost $31.68 per ticket or arrest. The checkpoint price tag? $184.84

      If you go just a couple of links down on the google search  you did, you will come to a Wikipedia article on random checkpoints. It is relatively short and contains the following:

      The debate regang saturation patrols versus checkpoints favors saturation patrols being more effective, both in terms of number of arrests and cost. The FBI compared saturation patrols vs. checkpoints in Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee. The study showed that, “Overall, measured in arrests per hour, a dedicated saturation patrol is the most effective method of apprehending offenders.”[15] Another survey found that “States with infrequent checkpoints claimed a lack of funding and police resources for not conducting more checkpoints, preferred saturation patrols over checkpoints because they were more ‘productive,’ and used large number of police officers at checkpoints.”[16]

      There is a dearth of research regarding the deterrent effect of checkpoints. The only formally documented research regarding deterrence is a survey of Maryland’s “Checkpoint Strikeforce” program. The survey found no deterrent effect: The only formally documented research regarding deterrence is a survey of Maryland’s “Checkpoint Strikeforce” program. The survey found no deterrent effect: “To date, there is no evidence to indicate that this campaign, which involves a number of sobriety checkpoints and media activities to promote these efforts, has had any impact on public perceptions, driver behaviors, or alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and injuries. This conclusion is drawn after examining statistics for alcohol-related crashes, police citations for impaired driving, and public perceptions of alcohol-impaired driving risk.

      All are found on the first page of the google search  suggested. If one were  search that includes something like ‘patrolling” or “saturation patrols” you will find even more material relevant to the point I was  making.

      All that said, I really don’t care if the trains run on time– seizing citizens without any factual reason to suspect that they are violating the law is creeping fascism, whether or not it serves some other worthy goal.

      • The Money Magician February 2, 2012 at 5:50 am #

        … “address the question of whether increased patroling is both more efficient and less violative of rights”.

        When you engage in hyperbole like this:

        All independent studies have shown that the stopping of citizens for no reason whatsoever is not only not an effective way of combating DWI  …

        you should expect to get flagged once in a while.

        • Paul Twomey February 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm #
      • The Money Magician February 2, 2012 at 5:59 am #

        The Kansas City piece, and the FBI portion of the second piece, equate efficacy in reducing drunk driving with arrest rates.  Frankly, I’d be happiest if we could reduce drunk driving with  no arrests – to your point about violation of rights.

        As far as the second part of the second quote goes – re lack of research on deterrence – refer to Shults.  As you’ve pointed out, it doesn’t make any claim to relative effectiveness, but it certainly makes a pretty persuasive case for a deterrent effect.

        In your original comment, you made it sound like there was an overwhelming body of evidence that checkpoints don’t work.  AFAICT, that was very inaccurate.

    • Brian K February 2, 2012 at 1:54 am #

      Some good points have been made on both sides in this thread.  I’d like to add my 2 cents for what it’s worth.  It’s been said that check points serve as a deterrence but that they take officers away from paroling which is more effective.  It seems to me (without having researched) that any deterrence check points have is due the to prior publicity that they get, as in channel nine reporting that police will be out with road blocks on New Years eve or prom night. So way not get the best of both road blocks and patrolling by having occasional stepped up patrols that are widely publicized?  It seems to me that this would create even greater deterrence since potential drunk drivers wouldn’t know in advance where the cops are going to be but would have to worry that they might turn up  anywhere. Just a thought…

  7. victoriap February 3, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 12-1 not to go forward with the bill. I was there for most of the hearing, and while Rep Cohn gave a pretty good presentation, when all was said – by Legislators on and off the committee and State employees, the greater public good trumped liberty. The stories they all told concerning checkpoints were eye-opening. Wish I had the video so could share it.

    I’ve driven NH back roads and main roads for over 30 years, and know how crazy it is out there at times. To me, this was a very good decision from a practical perspective, but it was also symbolic. Yes, there are limits to person liberty. As I heard several times today, driving is a privilege, not an unalienable right, and with it comes responsibility.

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