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Program Profile: Checkpoint Tennessee

Evidence Rating: Effective - One study Effective - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 08, 2011

Program Summary

A year-long statewide sobriety checkpoint program in Tennessee intended to combat impaired driving and reduce alcohol-related car crashes. The program is rated Effective. Researchers observed a 20.4 percent reduction over the projected number of drunk-driving fatal crashes that would have occurred with no intervention. There was a statistically significant reduction in nighttime single-vehicle injury crashes after the start of the program, positive public opinion and awareness of the program.

Program Description

Program Goals

In the early 1990s, nearly half of all traffic fatalities in Tennessee each year were alcohol-related. Checkpoint Tennessee was a year-long statewide sobriety checkpoint program intended to deter impaired driving and reduce alcohol-related crashes. It was a joint effort between the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Governor's Highway Safety Office (GHSO), the Department of Safety, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The goal was to arrest impaired drivers at checkpoints to get them off the streets, and to spread the message of zero tolerance for drunk driving in Tennessee.


Many concerns over implementing sobriety checkpoints are about resources and cost, so another goal of Checkpoint Tennessee was to prove that it could be effective at reducing drunk-driving fatalities, while using existing personnel resources.


Target Sites

Checkpoints were conducted on weekends in all 95 counties of Tennessee. There were approximately 900 checkpoints within the program year, compared to only about 15 in the preceding year.


Program Components

The Checkpoint Tennessee program was in place from April 1, 1994, to March 31, 1995. The checkpoints were implemented by the Tennessee Highway Patrol in coordination with local law enforcement agencies. Three checkpoints were set up in at least four counties throughout the state every weekend. “Weekend blitzes” were conducted on five weekends out of the year, with checkpoints conducted in all 95 counties of Tennessee. These took place on the first weekend of the program in April 1994; on the weekends of Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day; and at the end of the program, in March 1995.


At the checkpoints, all motorists were stopped to investigate for suspicion of impairment. If no evidence of impairment was found, they were given a pamphlet on driving under the influence and let go. If they were suspected of impairment, they were given further testing. Officers used several different types of equipment at checkpoints to detect driver impairment, including passive alcohol sensors in flashlights, video cameras, special lighting, cones, reflective vests, generators, signs, and floodlights. Passive alcohol sensors are flashlights with sensors to detect alcohol on the breath as the officer checks the eyes of the suspected drunken driver, and were an integral part of impairment testing at the checkpoints. All of these tools were used to gather evidence of impairment and determine probable cause to arrest impaired drivers. Standardized field sobriety tests were also used to detect impaired drivers.


Checkpoint Tennessee was heavily publicized in mass media outlets in the forms of TV, radio, and print public service announcements (PSAs), brochures, and billboards. Agreements were made with television stations to air the PSAs during primetime hours to maximize the impact of the message. Editorials were published in newspapers, discussing Checkpoint Tennessee and its goals. In addition, schedules for upcoming checkpoints were published in newspapers to make their presence known to the community. Billboards and radio ads were used to spread the message to motorists while they were driving; the billboards were placed on widely traveled highways in the state. Brochures outlining both the details of the program and the state’s drunk driving laws were distributed to the community, along with promotional materials, such as pens, pins, and cups.


Key Personnel

The GHSO did research and planning for the program, while the Tennessee Highway Patrol executed the checkpoints with cooperation from local law enforcement agencies. The checkpoints were staffed using existing police resources; at least six troopers and a supervisor were required to staff each checkpoint.


Program Theory

It was believed that since mass media outlets have such a strong influence on society, advertising the program through media outlets would increase awareness of the program and spread the message against impaired driving. The idea was that if the program was widely advertised, people will be deterred from driving while impaired.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Drunk Driving Fatal Crashes in Tennessee
Lacey, Jones, and Smith (1999) observed a 20.4 percent reduction over the projected number of drunk-driving fatal crashes that would have occurred with no intervention. They estimated that this prevented approximately nine fatal crashes per month. The reductions were sustained for at least 21 months after the Checkpoint Tennessee program ended in March 1995.

Drunk Driving Fatal Crashes in Comparison States
The model showed a slight insignificant increase in drunk-driving fatal crashes in the five surrounding states of Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Nighttime Single-Vehicle Injury Crashes in Tennessee
There was a statistically significant reduction of 5.5 percent in nighttime single-vehicle injury crashes after the start of the Checkpoint Tennessee program.

Public Opinion and Awareness of the Program
Nine out of 10 survey respondents showed support for the program, and awareness of the program over the course of the year increased as the program gained publicity. Eighty-five percent of respondents of the mail comment cards had positive comments about the program.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Lacey, Jones, and Smith (1999) used an interrupted time-series analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of Checkpoint Tennessee in reducing fatal alcohol-related crashes. The dependent variable and measure of effectiveness was drunk driving fatal crashes, which was defined as a fatal crash in which one of the drivers had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 percent or higher. Data on fatal crashes was obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Accident Reporting System. Data was examined from 1988 to 1996, with a preintervention period of January 1988 to March 1994, and the intervention period starting April 1, 1994. While the program ended March 31, 1995, data was examined until July 1996 to account for residual effects.

The number of drunk driving fatal crashes in Tennessee were compared using their pre- and postintervention monthly means. Crashes in Tennessee were also compared to the number of overall fatal crashes in the five surrounding states: Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. An autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) time-series model was used to estimate the amount of fatal crashes that would have occurred with no intervention. The total amount of fatal crashes in Tennessee and the five comparison states, alcohol-related or not, were included in the analysis as an explanatory variable. To further evaluate the effectiveness of the program in reducing crashes, they also examined the number of nighttime single-vehicle injury crashes in Tennessee. The purpose of this analysis was to look at less-severe crashes that were likely caused by an impaired driver.

The researchers supplemented the study with opinion surveys to gauge public perception and awareness of the program. They distributed surveys at driver’s license renewal offices, conducted telephone surveys, and mailed comment cards. The surveys were administered at three different points throughout the program’s implementation.
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The total cost of Checkpoint Tennessee came out to $927,594. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association provided federal funds of $452,255, and the State provided funds of $475,339. Federal funding covered public information, training and education materials, equipment, and program evaluation. State funding covered police salaries, publicity costs, and various other program expenses. The program did not use federal funding to hire new personnel or pay salaries of staff for the checkpoints, and instead used existing personnel resources. The reallocation of existing state resources demonstrated the feasibility of implementing this type of program in other police departments.
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Implementation Information

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Special training was necessary to successfully implement the checkpoints. Officers were specially trained to use the checkpoint equipment properly, especially the passive alcohol sensors. Procedures for checkpoints were done in accordance with Tennessee laws on checkpoint implementation, which included requirements for personnel and equipment.

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Other Information

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In the years prior to the program, 10 to 15 checkpoints were typically held in Tennessee annually. A total of 882 checkpoints were held during Checkpoint Tennessee from April 1, 1994, to March 31, 1995. A total of 144,299 drivers passed through these checkpoints, and 773 were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Police also arrested 201 drivers for drug violations, arrested 84 for youth offender violations, made 35 felony arrests, seized 49 weapons, cited 1,517 for safety belt or child restraint violations, issued 7,351 traffic citations, and recovered four stolen vehicles.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Lacey, John, Ralph K. Jones, and Randall G. Smith. 1999. Evaluation of Checkpoint Tennessee: Tennessee's Statewide Sobriety Checkpoint Program. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Sobriety Checkpoints
Sobriety checkpoints are police operations that aim to reduce the number of alcohol-related car crashes by preventing people from driving under the influence of alcohol and other substances. Driving under the influence (DUI) is prevented by increasing the perceived and actual risk of detection and apprehension by the police. The practice is rated Promising for reducing the number of car crashes.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Car Crashes
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Community Awareness/Mobilization, Community Crime Prevention , Specific deterrence

Targeted Population: Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Offenders

Current Program Status: Not Active

Training and TA Provider:
James Fell
Senior Program Director
Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation: Alcohol, Policy, and Safety Research Center
11720 Beltsville Drive, Suite 900
Calverton MD 20705
Phone: 301.755.2746
Fax: 301.755.2799