The Politics of Roadblocks: NMA E-Newsletter #427

In Montana, one state lawmaker has taken aim at random roadblocks. House Bill 146 would require law enforcement to give at least 48 hours public notice, which includes information to the news media, before setting up temporary road blocks. HB146 has already passed nearly unanimously in both the state house and senate and is now awaiting signature from Governor Steve Bullock.

In a short interview with the NMA, sponsor Representative Daniel Zolinikov (R-Billings) said he worked closely with the Montana Highway Patrol to write the bill. He discovered that local municipalities were misusing roadblocks and he wanted to bring local roadblocks up to the standards of the state highway patrol. Representative Zolinikov said since the highway patrol supported HB 146, the bill had little opposition from local police.

Currently there are few Montana roadblocks reported with the NMA’s Roadblock Registry even though we know that they indeed occur. We need Representative Zolnikov’s type of bill in these top ten roadblock states, most below the Mason-Dixon line. The number of driver-sourced reports to the NMA database are from the past five years:

Georgia                       276 reported roadblocks

North Carolina         273 reported roadblocks

Kentucky                    147 reported roadblocks

Illinois                         141 reported roadblocks

Mississippi                 136 reported roadblocks

Alabama                    122 reported roadblocks

South Carolina        105 reported roadblocks

California                   80 reported roadblocks

Virginia                       76 reported roadblocks

Tennessee                 49 reported roadblocks

Even though Montana HB 146 is a start, does this sort of legislation hamper the real issues that are going on with roadblocks? Below are some thoughts on the politics of roadblocks and language for sample legislation from our website.

After reviewing the many court decisions involving roadblocks and related search and seizure cases the trends are fairly obvious, and ominous.

Personal privacy is an endangered right. The judicial rationalizations that legalize roadblocks for law enforcement purposes can be characterized as contorted, convoluted, and blind to the Pandora’s box of abuses they can unleash.

The principle of individual privacy, the right to be left alone, has repeatedly been diluted and undermined in the name of safety, national security, or crime prevention. Depending on the courts to reverse this trend is an exercise in futility.

Re-gaining our personal privacy and giving substance to the concept of the right to be left alone are battles that will have to be fought in the legislative arena.

The fight will range from state to state and multiple sessions of Congress. Not until political fortunes rise and fall based on this issue will we experience a return to personal privacy and the right to travel without the unbridled interference of law enforcement agencies.

Ideally, a constitutional amendment that removed all ambiguity from the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution would be our first choice. That is, a clear and simple statement that the courts could not pervert.

Such an amendment should state that no person could be stopped, detained, or involuntarily questioned for law enforcement purposes, without Probable Cause to believe that they had, or were in the process, of committing a crime.

Political reality suggests that such an amendment would be incredibly difficult to pass. Therefore, the next best option is legislation, similarly worded, that would prevent any and all units of government from exercising enforcement actions that are not based on Probable Cause, or at least reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed.

Federal legislation promoting this concept would be difficult to pass. However, a state by state grass roots effort could be successful.

Momentum for anti-roadblock legislation could be initiated by starting in those states that already take a dim view of police roadblocks for enforcement purposes. After passage in several states where roadblocks have been discouraged the effort could be transferred to states that have succumbed to the use of roadblocks. The use of the Initiative and Referendum process is another viable alternative.

Model Legislative Language:

The stopping and detaining, involuntarily, of any person for any law enforcement purpose must be preceded by probable cause or, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion, that said person has or is committing a crime. The right to travel cannot be diminished nor limited as a condition for obtaining a government privilege or license.

The second sentence is to prevent the state from conditioning the issuance of a driver’s license by requiring the applicant to give up certain rights, e.g. allowing police officers to stop and detain you without probable cause or reasonable suspicion as a condition for the granting of a driver’s license.

If you have an interest in pursuing this kind of legislative initiative in your state please contact the National Motorists Association for further information.

If you encounter a roadblock, we encourage you to register that roadblock on the NMA-sponsored website at

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