Every so often I’ll be driving home from wherever I’m coming from and I’ll run into a line of cars, a bunch light sticks on the road, some signs, and a gaggle of police officers stopping cars and letting them proceed. Or just stopping them period. This is a sobriety checkpoint and it is utilized all throughout Pennsylvania as a method of detecting drunk driving.
DUI Checkpoints in PA
They are especially common in Lower Merion, Willow Grove, Abington, Hatboro, Horsham, Upper Merion, and King of Prussia. As a DUI lawyer of many years, I know what a lawful sobriety checkpoint looks like.
- Police officers need to provide notice to oncoming traffic that there is a checkpoint ahead
- They just can’t stop anyone they want, they have to have a predetermined system as to which car they will pull over (i.e. every third car, fifth car, etc.).
Even if it isn’t a lawful checkpoint, they will stick a flashlight in your car and ask you where you are coming from and have you been drinking, etc,. and the investigation has begun. But do you really have to stand by idly for this inconvenience? The answer, quite frankly, is “maybe”.
Under Pennsylvania case law, it is NOT prohibited to maneuver your vehicle away from a sobriety checkpoint if you can do so without committing a motor vehicle violation. By way of example, if you get to the sign that says “checkpoint ahead” and you decide you don’t want to proceed, you can do so if you can turn into a driveway while using your turn signal, back out while no cars are around, and merely proceed in the direction away from the checkpoint. That’s legal.
What you can’t do is cut a u-turn in the middle of the road; drive around the checkpoint where you go onto the shoulder of the road or into the other lane; nor can you just start driving in reverse. Most importantly, if you evade the checkpoint lawfully, the police cannot pull you over for suspicion of DUI without more to go on. Not saying they won’t, but the law prohibits them.
Sobriety checkpoints can be annoying but its just a small inconvenience we tolerate from time to time to keep the roads safer for everyone.