If you're one of the nearly 700,000 Tennesseans expected to get behind the wheel this holiday weekend, be advised -- law enforcement will be on high alert.
The Chattanooga area is no exception, as the Chattanooga Police Department, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and other municipal law enforcement agencies all plan to set up sobriety checkpoints throughout the weekend. That's bad news to more than just those who would try to skirt the law.
However, in a recent opinion piece sent to the Times Free Press, Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, called the checkpoints a waste of resources.
"While these checkpoints cause traffic jams and frustrate drivers, they rarely catch motorists who have had too much to drink before getting behind the wheel," Longwell wrote. "It might seem counter-intuitive, but sobriety checkpoints are actually a lousy way to crack down on drunk driving."
Longwell cited a litany of reasons in her argument, including low statistics of actually nabbing drunken drivers at checkpoints, as well as the high cost of DUI checkpoints versus cheaper alternatives that net better results, such as increased patrol saturation. Longwell also mentioned that checkpoint locations are known well in advance, and said advances in technology have compounded the problem.
"Now, it's easier than ever for a driver to warn hundreds of social media followers about a checkpoint in a single post or Tweet, or to quickly text a friend a cautionary heads-up," Longwell wrote. "There's even a slew of smartphone apps that automatically alert users to any checkpoints in the area."
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said he believes checkpoints are deterrents for people.
"A lot of times, knowing there's a checkpoint out there will cause a person to curb their drinking or not drink and drive," Hammond said. "We think there's value in it."
Hammond also pointed out that law enforcement officials use checkpoints for other purposes, such as seat belt checks.
"We get a lot more out of it [checkpoints] than just stopping drunk drivers," Hammond said. "You'd be amazed at the amount of unlicensed drivers and people with felony warrants we catch."
Chattanooga police also swore by the efficacy of checkpoints, citing Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security statistics that showed that alcohol-related crash fatalities in the city went from 14 in 2013 to 6 in 2014 -- a 57 percent decrease.
"The Chattanooga Police Department strongly believes that the highly visible, highly publicized and frequently conducted campaigns throughout the last year led to the drastic 2014 crash reductions," spokesman Kyle Miller said.
Holiday weekends, which often combine reveling with travel, can be deadly. Last year, nine people died in fatal crashes in Tennessee over Memorial Day weekend. Two were alcohol-related, and four weren't wearing seat belts. The Tennessee Highway Patrol, which is coordinating checkpoints across the state with local and county agencies, said enjoyment and safety could go hand-in-hand.
"THP wants everyone to enjoy the holiday weekend, drive responsibly, drive safe, and look twice for motorcycles," said Lt. John Harmon, THP spokesman.
Contact staff writer Will Healey at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.