Yes. If checkpoints are set up frequently over long enough periods and are well-publicized, they can establish a belief in people's minds that impaired drivers will be apprehended. This belief is essential to general deterrence.
Sobriety checkpoints have been criticized for producing fewer arrests per man-hour than dedicated patrols, but focusing on the number of arrests is a misleading way to assess the value of checkpoints. The primary purpose of frequent checkpoints is to increase public awareness and deter potential offenders. For example, in the Australian state of Victoria, which has had an extensive roadside breath testing program for many years, only 1 in 555 drivers stopped in 1993 tested positive for alcohol to the point of breaking the law.
In 1978, before the roadside breath testing program, the ratio was 1 positive to 45 negatives.
A 1984 Institute study in two neighboring jurisdictions demonstrated how checkpoints can change public perceptions.
Fairfax County, Va., had a long history of vigorous enforcement of alcohol-impaired driving laws and used unpublicized drinking-driver patrols to achieve relatively high arrest rates. Nearby Montgomery County, Md., had historically lower arrest rates but used well-publicized sobriety checkpoints during the study period. Surveys of licensed drivers revealed that public awareness of enforcement programs was far greater in Montgomery County than in Fairfax County. Respondents in both counties incorrectly believed the probability of arrest was higher in Montgomery County, where checkpoints were conducted.
These changed perceptions can lead to reduced alcohol-impaired driving and fewer crashes. In 1988, the Institute and the city of Binghamton, N.Y., implemented an integrated enforcement program that emphasized the publicized use of sobriety and safety belt checkpoints. During the program's first two years, the number of drivers stopped who had been drinking decreased about 40 percent. Late-night crashes decreased 21 percent while checkpoints were in place, and injury-producing nighttime crashes declined 16 percent.
In 1995, North Carolina implemented a statewide intensive three-week publicized enforcement campaign focusing on alcohol-impaired driving, including statewide checkpoints and roving saturation patrols. Drivers on the road with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined from 198 per 10,000 before the program to 90 per 10,000 after.
In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed studies evaluating sobriety checkpoint programs. The median decline in crashes thought to involve alcohol was about 20 percent.
A 2014 review of 10 more recent studies found a median relative percentage decrease in alcohol-involved fatal crashes of about 9 percent.
A 2009 meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that aggregates the results of multiple studies) found sobriety checkpoints reduced crashes involving alcohol by 17 percent or more and all crashes by about 10-15 percent.