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A bill that would eliminate sobriety checkpoints in North Dakota will appear before the Judiciary Committee Monday.

House Bill 1084 says law enforcement would need reasonable suspicion before halting a vehicle.

Sponsor, Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, said the bill questions the effectiveness of the checkpoints and the infringement of driver's rights.

"There's no evidence that checkpoints have decreased drunk driving," he said. "I can't say that they've helped zero, but there's no evidence they have."

Becker said that advertising the checkpoint locations makes the method ineffective.

"When you have a checkpoint and it's advertised, you potentially have drunk drivers going down a different road," he said.

Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin said the locations are advertised because sobriety checkpoints are used as a deterrent and people are less likely to drive drunk if they might be stopped.

"It can come across as an inconvenience, but the prevention aspect helps impact the decision to get into a car drunk," Donlin said. "That deterrent effect, I would hope, would have an influence on people not driving intoxicated."

The highway patrol, though, does not advertise the exact locations of sobriety checkpoints.

Sen. Tom Campbell, a supporter of the bill, said there are better and more efficient ways to deter drunk drivers, including better education.

"I just feel right now that sobriety checkpoints don't work the way they should," Campbell said. "They're expensive, they take a lot of officers and they're concentrated in one area. If people are educated, maybe they'll stop."

Becker said that raising insurance rates for drunken drivers could also prove a deterrent and law enforcement can use other methods, including saturation patrols.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, though, said they already use saturation patrols and overtime as tools to stop drunken driving.

"There are other ways of doing it, but you want to do combined enforcement activities," he said.

Mandan Police Chief Dennis Bullinger said that packing different methods together works best because none are 100 percent effective.

Banning sobriety checkpoints also could affect law enforcement's abilities to put up roadblocks, stopping vehicles that fit descriptions of those used for crimes and performing commercial vehicle inspections, according to Kirchmeier.

Becker, though, said the bill should not affect road blocks and an amendment will be proposed at the hearing Monday that would change the prohibition on commercial inspections.

His concern beyond the inefficiency of sobriety checkpoints, Becker said, is violation of drivers' rights.

"Any situation where people are being stopped without cause is an infringement on our civil liberties," he said.

Campbell said his constituents have told him the checkpoints are harassing and put a negative tone on their evening.

Kirchmeier, though, said sobriety checkpoints can't be considered an infringement.

"The opportunity to drive is a privilege, it's not a right," he said. "Sobriety checkpoints are done for the protection of everybody."

Kirchmeier said banning sobriety checkpoints would just limit the ability of law enforcement functions and road safety.

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(Reach Karee Magee at 701-250-8251 or karee.magee@bismarcktribune.com)

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