SALEM, Ore. (AP) - There's a renewed push for police roadblocks to detect impaired drivers in Oregon.
At a hearing Thursday, representatives of law enforcement agencies and groups that fight drunken driving said "sobriety checkpoints" have a deterrent effect that could reduce traffic deaths and injuries that number in the hundreds each year.
For years, Oregon police agencies used roadblocks in which randomly selected drivers were questioned to see if they'd been drinking.
In 1987, the Oregon Supreme Court banned the checkpoints on constitutional grounds.
Sponsors of the new effort want the Legislature to call for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to allow checkpoints.
Lois Harvick of MADD Oregon said that 150 people were killed in drunken driving crashes in Oregon in 2007 - about a third of the traffic fatalities that year.
"Drunk driving remains a 100 percent preventable violent crime that continues to create victims, and kill and injure innocent people," Harvick told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said the state Supreme Court "made a wise decision" when it ruled that the random traffic stops violated the state constitution's protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
"We need to protect individuals from being stopped when the government has no reason to believe they did anything wrong," David Fidanque said. "There are other ways to stop drunk drivers, such as using saturation patrols, without violating people's constitutional rights."
A restaurant industry group, the American Beverage Institute, said advocates of restoring the checkpoints are ignoring the root cause of the DUII problem - "hard-core alcoholics who do not respond to public appeal" against drinking and driving.
"That leaves adults who enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a ball game, or a champagne toast at a wedding to be harassed at checkpoints," the group said. "Oregon is right to keep checkpoints out of the state."
Supporters of taking the issue to Oregon voters noted, however, that 38 other states allow sobriety checkpoints and that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 ruled that those stops are permitted under the U.S. Constitution.
Sen. Rod Monroe, sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment, said states with sobriety checkpoints have seen a 20 percent reduction in highway fatalities and serious injuries.
"This would mean 30 fewer deaths per year in Oregon and 2,100 fewer serious injuries," the Portland Democrat said.
The committee heard a description of a 1985 sobriety checkpoint from Chuck Hayes, a former Oregon State Police officer and chairman of the governor's advisory committee on DUII.
Hayes said he and six other state troopers set up the checkpoint on a road north of Salem, and spent several hours stopping every fifth car to question the driver.
The troopers made eight DUII arrests that night, Hayes said, but more important they found many vehicles in which there was a designated driver because there had been publicity in advance of setting up the roadblock.
"It's not just an apprehension tool," he said. "It's a great deterrent tool."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)