If you grew up in, say, America, you might reasonably expect that when a police officer pulls you over it’s because he’s got some kind of probable cause or evidence of a violation. Then again, maybe not.
The Texas senate views that expectation as a personal problem, it would seem. A bill just passed by the Texas house allows for “sobriety checkpoints” to be set up, in which the police are allowed to pull over and inspect every motorist passing through to see if they’ve been boozing.
These kinds of methods were banned by the courts as unconstitutional a decade-and-a-half ago on the grounds that there were no state-wide regulations for the procedures and methodologies of the checkpoints. After these 15-odd years, legislators have finally hit on the relatively sapient expedient of, you guessed it, defining such a set of regulations.
The rules restrict the checkpoints to cities with populations of at least 500,000 or counties of at least 250,000 residents. They must also have the approval of a sheriff or mayor.
There has been some effort made to make sure the checkpoints are as purely focused on alcohol-detection as possible, with no room for funny business. All checkpoints must be video- and audio-recorded, the officers cannot ask for driver’s licenses or insurance cards, and drivers can only be detained for three minutes.
There is plenty of reason, it must be admitted, to think that these checkpoints will do a good service: it is estimated that 300 lives will be saved if they can be set up, which is not inconsiderable if you reflect on the nearly 1,300 people killed in alcohol-related crashes in Texas in 2007. It’s hard to argue against that in any direct way, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on how things work in practice at these checkpoints, after such a fundamental liberty has been smudged and elided.
Holly LaFon is a journalist who has written for D Magazine and Examiner.