What is a DUI Saturation Patrol?


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What is a DUI Saturation Patrol?

What is a DUI Saturation Patrol?

CHP DUI Arrest Rearview

A DUI saturation patrol is not the same as a DUI checkpoint.  Saturation patrols, sometimes called roving police patrols or wolf packs, involve law enforcement deploying additional police patrol cars to targeted roads during select time periods to detect and apprehend drunk drivers.

Saturation patrols look for changes in driving behaviors. The behaviors most often assessed are the following:

  • Weaving outside of the lane lines;
  • Following too closely;
  • Driving too slowly;
  • Speeding; and
  • Driving without headlights.  Driving with your headlights off, in a study of police reports from all over the United States, had the largest statistical correlation to a person actually drunk driving, from NHTSA studies of the reports.

However, not all law enforcement agencies have the same guidelines for saturation patrols.  While the idea behind a saturation patrol is that a large number of law enforcement officers will look for drunk drivers, other police departments instead have an entirely different approach.

With some police agencies, the purpose of saturation patrols are to be a “zero tolerance” for all traffic violations, including people driving with cellphones, not having a seatbelt, or any other conceivable traffic violations, no matter how small.  The idea there is that by casting a wider net and inspecting all cars and drivers for any and all traffic citations, they can observe those that might be DUI.

That is done by by conducting stops to give tickets, and making initial observations for any and all of the following:

  • Bloodshot, watery eyes;
  • Lack of coordination in getting license, insurance, and registration information;
  • Slurred speech;
  • An odor of alcohol;
  • A flushed complexion;
  • Enlarged pupils, sweating, nervousness, a high pulse, or confusion, which can show consumption of drugs, and thus Driving Under the Influence of Drugs;
  • Evidence of alcohol or drug consumption related to driving, including bottles alcohol containers, pipes, bongs, or pharmaceutical packaging in the vehicle.

Any of those can lead to a request that the driver submit to field sobriety testing, or a breath or blood test.

Probable Cause and Saturation Patrols

While a DUI checkpoint that is properly run under legal guidelines does NOT need to establish probable cause to inspect for DUI, a saturation patrol still needs to have probable cause.  A Saturation Patrol must have a legal violation to justify the stop and effectively a search of the car, or body (through breath or blood), and thus are different than DUI checkpoints.

Effectiveness of Saturation Patrols

Academic and research papers analyzing the statistics show that saturation patrols appear to be effective in reducing impaired driving  (Stuster & Blowers, 1995).  Many studies show they are many times more effective in finding, and arresting, those that are DUI, than DUI checkpoints are. (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-20)

“Like sobriety checkpoints, the primary purpose of saturation patrols is to deter driving after drinking by increasing the perceived risk of arrest. To do this, saturation patrols should be publicized extensively and conducted regularly.” (UNC Highway Safety Research Center, 2011, p. 1-20). Saturation patrols can have advantages over sobriety checkpoints, including increased effectiveness, reduced staffing, and comparative ease of operation (Greene, 2003).

A less-intensive strategy is the “roving patrol” in which individual patrol officers concentrate on detecting and arresting impaired drivers in an area where impaired driving is common or where alcohol-involved crashes have occurred (Stuster, 2000). A “how-to” guide for planning and publicizing saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints is available from NHTSA (NHTSA, 2002).

However, the research on the saturation patrol strategy is limited and is certainly not as extensive as that on sobriety checkpoints, as this is a newer law enforcement technique. Roving patrols are sometimes conducted in association with checkpoints to cut down on drivers circumventing checkpoint enforcement locations. Officers are dispatched to alternative routes to patrol for drinking drivers, and at the same time looking for those that are purposely avoiding DUI checkpoints.

Contact our DUI Defense Firm if you have questions, or call us at (877) 942-3090.




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