It seems that every session of the Texas Legislature for almost two decades has included a proposal to let law enforcement officers run motorists through sobriety checkpoints to pull drunk drivers off the road.But even support from big-city mayors hasn't been enough to get this major policy change written into state law.Both sides in the checkpoint debate make compelling arguments.Having to detour through a checkpoint can be an annoying delay, possibly an unjustified intrusion, for a law-abiding driver. Without proper constraints, it could turn into a ticket-writing opportunity for overzealous officers. It could even result in a warrantless search, and those often end up being problematic.On the other hand, drunken driving is a public safety threat, not merely a theoretical problem. In 2010, there were 10,000 deaths nationwide in car crashes involving drivers who were legally drunk (blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher), and more than 1,200 were in Texas, according to the latest available federal statistics. Keeping people from driving while impaired and harming others requires a multi-faceted approach.The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 ruled that the brief detention at a sobriety checkpoint doesn't automatically violate the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The government has an interest in curbing drunken driving, the court said.But in 1994, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said the checkpoints aren't legal without guidelines set by the Legislature. Hence, the back and forth since then over what strictures to adopt, if any.So far, the answer from lawmakers has been not any.In 2009, the Texas Senate passed a checkpoint bill by Sen. John Carona, a Dallas Republican, but it died in the House. Last session, companion bills by Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, and Rep. Todd Smith, a Euless Republican, went nowhere.Thirty-eight states allow sobriety checkpoints. In some cases they're conducted weekly or twice monthly, though in a few locations it's more often, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. (bit.ly/cT1kGq)The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which calls checkpoints effective but costly, provides guidelines states can use in adopting their rules. The NHTSA emphasizes that checkpoints must involve minimal intrusion on motorists; be well-planned so they don't give officers unfettered discretion; be located in areas with well-documented problems involving alcohol-related crashes and driving violations; and give approaching drivers proper warning.The most recent bills introduced in Texas contained numerous other provisions designed to protect motorists:Only populous areas could conduct them: counties with a population larger than 250,000 and cities of 500,000 or more residents.A law enforcement agency would have to draw up a specific plan and have it approved by an elected sheriff or mayor (or a Texas Highway Patrol captain, for operations on state highways).Criteria for choosing checkpoint sites would have to be published online and be based on the number of alcohol-related crashes and offenses in the vicinity during the previous year. Any given checkpoint location could be used only once a year. The date of a checkpoint, though not the location, would have to be publicized beforehand.Each stop would be recorded, and any questions asked would have to be "reasonably related to determining whether the operator is intoxicated."An officer would need reasonable suspicion of drunken driving to ask a motorist to step out of the vehicle for a sobriety test. And an officer couldn't ask for a drivers license, proof of insurance or concealed handgun license without reasonable suspicion of a crime.During the 83rd session, which starts Jan. 8, lawmakers should consider whether it's time to let law enforcement add this tool -- along with specific rules -- to the arsenal for curbing drunken driving.