The Hamilton County Traffic Safety Partnership (HCTSP) is a consortium of law enforcement agencies in Hamilton County working to increase the usage of seatbelts, to combat aggressive driving, and to decrease impaired driving with the overall goal of creating a safer Hamilton County.
Impaired driving is one of our nation's most frequently committed violent crimes. Just in Indiana in 2009, alcohol-related traffic crashes killed 157 people, accounting for approximately 25% of all fatal crashes. An unfortunate reality is that about one-third of all of Indiana's traffic fatalities involve alcohol-related crashes.
About 1,200 people are convicted of an impaired driving offense annually in Hamilton County alone, and nearly 200 of those are repeat offenders. For example, in 2010 in Hamilton County, the State filed 1,310 charges of operating while intoxicated, of which, 176 involved drivers who had prior convictions within the last 5 years.
The HCTSP uses 2 primary tools to meet its goals and accomplish its mission. The Partnership schedules overtime, multi-agency drunk-driving saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints on a regular basis to prevent further tragedies and deter the impaired driver. The saturation patrols consist of officers who rove the streets looking for these offenders and thereby saturate a particular area with patrol officers.
These same departments also use a method of enforcement known as sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints have proven successful in both raising awareness of impaired driving and reducing the likelihood of a person driving after they have been drinking.
At a sobriety checkpoint, law enforcement officers evaluate drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment at a specified point along the roadway, often depending upon the support of local property owners for the use of appropriate land. Checkpoint sites are selected based upon analysis of available crash and impaired driving arrest data and a consideration of officer safety.
Vehicles are stopped in a specific sequence, such as every other vehicle, every third vehicle, every fourth vehicle or by stopping 3, 4, or 5 cars in succession and allowing other traffic to proceed while checking the stopped vehicles. The planned sequence in which vehicles are stopped depends on the number of officers available to staff the checkpoint, traffic congestion, and other safety concerns.
At the Checkpoint
Upon making contact with the driver, the officer advises them that they've been stopped at an HCTSP sobriety checkpoint and asks for the driver's license and the vehicle's registration. If, in the course of the contact, the officer detects that alcohol may be involved and that the driver may be impaired or if some other issue arises, then the vehicle is directed into a pull-off area for further investigation. Further investigation may involve the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). On the other hand, if all looks right during the initial contact, the driver is often on his or her way in under 2 minutes.
Officers staffing the sobriety checkpoints work on an overtime basis paid by grant funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Indiana Governor's Council on Impaired and Dangerous Driving.
Sobriety checkpoints are legal in 39 states, including Indiana, and the District of Columbia. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, if conducted properly, sobriety checkpoints do not constitute an illegal search and seizure. In the 2002 case of State of Indiana vs. Gerschoffer, the Indiana Supreme Court found that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional when conducted properly. Members of the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney's Office work with the Partnership to ensure that each checkpoint meets constitutional requirements.