What to do at checkpoints



A checkpoint is generally a road blocked by a barrier, person, mines, a gate or spikes.

It may be run either legally (army, police or security forces) or illegally (criminal gangs, bandits, rebels or militia forces). At legal checkpoints the aim is usually to stop the vehicle and check for documents, people in the vehicle, drugs, weapons or illegal trafficking of people. At illegal checkpoints, the aim is to extort money, steal the contents of the vehicle or carjack the vehicle and kidnap the occupants.

You may not know which type it is until you are actually in it. Try to identify clothing, uniforms and speech to determine whether it is a legal or illegal checkpoint and what political leaning or affiliation those operating it may have.


The people manning the checkpoint may have been at the checkpoint for hours in a hot or cold climate with no airconditioning or heating. They may have had no food or water. You may be the first people they have seen today.

They may have been drinking, taking drugs or may even be children who have been taken from their families and also under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They can be very dangerous and volatile.

The checkpoint may be in an area where security forces are being targeted and therefore those manning it may be jumpy and afraid for their lives. Ensure you do nothing to give them the impression that you are a threat to them.

Your behaviour may directly influence your situation.

  • Always be polite but alert
  • Avoid confrontation. You may be under time pressure but they are not. Do not pressurise them just because you have a deadline
  • Identify yourself as a journalist
  • If on foot, approach the checkpoint with only necessary papers on hand
  • When in a vehicle, keep windows up, doors locked. Do not get out unless ordered to do so. Wind down the window to speak just enough to be able to look them in the eye
  • Never try to film without permission
  • If soldiers or militia manning the checkpoint are hostile or nervous, you may wish to offer something to smooth things over. There is a time and place for this which you must be able to gauge. Think about water, food, sweets or cigarettes, newspapers
  • Let them know that people know where you are and that you are expected back
  • Show them that you are not a threat. Keep your hands in sight and do not make any rash, quick movements. They may think you are going for a weapon

Approaching an unknown checkpoint 

  • The lead vehicle should warn the remainder of convoy
  • Appraise the situation
  • Radio your position to base 
  • Agree on who is going to speak to those manning the checkpoint
  • Remove your sunglasses
  • Slow down (to first gear - 5 kph) and be prepared to stop, turn off the engine and pull on the hand brake 

Approaching a legal checkpoint

The soldiers or police may do the following:

  • Check ID cards or passports
  • Visual security check of the interior (take your sunglasses off to confirm ID)
  • Search the glove compartment
  • Search the boot/trunk
  • Conduct an underneath mirror search of the vehicle
  • Open the bonnet/hood and search the engine area
  • Increase the search level if he/she is suspicious
  • If the search is conducted using a dog, the driver should remain in the car and the vehicle doors must be kept closed

If you need to get away quickly

  • Turn around early
  • If you can't turn around early, drive through 
  • If you can't drive through, reverse out
  • If you can't reverse out, run away





Photo: A mirror is used on a vehicle at a checkpoint to enter the Lawrence William Judicial Center in Fort Hood, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)