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Is It Wrong to Warn? Controversy Continues Over DUI Checkpoint Apps

Roadblocks used to catch New Jersey drunk drivers are subject to strict rules. Police throughout the state, including those conducting roadblocks in Union County, are required to notify motorists of upcoming sobriety checkpoints. In recent years, software applications for smartphones have been developed to also provide warning to drivers about roadblocks, garnering much scrutiny and inciting debate even at the Congressional level.

One of the first of these applications is PhantomAlert, a DUI checkpoint “app” released in 2009. It includes a database of roadblocks at more than 500,000 locations across the U.S. – including Union County – that users can reference to see whether roadblocks are set up where they will be driving. Users also can submit reports of roadblocks they encounter so the database is updated nearly in real time.

Roadblock App Debate

Critics of DUI checkpoint apps claim they are threats to public safety because they allow people to drink, drive and avoid getting caught by skirting roadblocks. In spring 2011, three Democratic Senators turned their attention to these apps and urged makers of cell phones that operate them to stop selling and disable the apps, saying they enable drunk driving.

Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, immediately pulled all DUI checkpoint apps for its phones, including PhantomAlert. Apple and Google, makers of other popular smartphones, also agreed later to change their policies. Apple’s new guidelines ban future DUI checkpoint apps that contain information “not published by law enforcement agencies, or encourage or enable drunk driving.” The company has not yet stated what it will do about existing roadblock programs.

Meanwhile, supporters of the apps say they improve safety by acting as deterrents to drunk driving. If people know roadblocks intended to catch drunk drivers are in place and there is a higher risk of getting caught, people will be less likely to drive under the influence. Instead, they will use designated drivers or call cabs.

Further, New Jersey law already requires police to give notice of roadblocks to drivers. These DUI checkpoint apps are simply repeating information that is already available to Union County motorists. In addition, even if DUI checkpoint apps are eliminated, people will still be able to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to alert others about roadblocks.

If you were charged with a DUI after a roadblock stop, promptly contact a New Jersey criminal defense attorney with experience in roadblock cases. A knowledgeable lawyer will protect your rights and hold police accountable for following the laws on roadblocks in New Jersey.