Turning a Corner on the MADDness?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 4th, 2005

After all of these years, we may finally be turning the corner on years of MADD’s unchallenged zealotry. The recent backlash from Washington DC’s "zero tolerance" policy may have been the beginning — and is apparently fostering a more critical look at the "war on drunk driving". The following commentary, for example, questions the .08% standard as well as the efficacy and motives for DUI roadblocks (see my earlier posts "Roadblocks for Fun and Profit" and "How to Make a Million in the DUI Business"):

Lower DUI threshold more dangerous?

Washington DC, October 30 Kudos to the D.C. Council, which recently voted in favor of a resolution by Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, to nix the District’s unjust "zero tolerance" policy of allowing police to arrest motorists who register any alcohol at all after stopping them for other offenses…

The larger problem, however, is the fact that since 2000, the federal government has mandated a blanket .08 legal threshold for the entire country. We’ve now had five years of data to measure the effectiveness of the .08 standard, and the data strongly suggest that not only is the standard too low, but the resources we’re expending to enforce it may actually be making our roadways more dangerous.

Here’s how: When President Clinton signed the .08 law in 2000, every state was forced to either comply with the law or give up millions of dollars in federal highway money. Critics at the time pointed to numerous studies showing that motorists aren’t significantly impaired at .08, and that in fact, most drunk driving fatalities occur at .15 or higher. Lowering the national standard from .10 to .08, then, was a bit like lowering the speed limit from 55 to 50 to catch motorists who zip along at 100 miles per hour.

In 1992, the Supreme Court gave its consent to random sobriety checkpoint roadblocks, despite conceding that they are probably a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled that the threat to highway safety posed by drunk driving justifies suspending our constitutional protection from illegal search and seizure, as well as our Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Drunk driving activists seized on the ruling and moved to employ roadblocks all over the country.

Critics of roadblocks and .08 predicted that (1) the lower standard would actually cause an increase in drunk driving deaths, as scarce law enforcement resources are diverted toward motorists who don’t pose a real threat to highway safety and away from the "hardcore" drunks that do; and (2) these roadblocks will be set up under the guise of drunk driving, but will in effect become little more than revenue generators, as police use them to issue citations for any number of less serious infractions.

Both predictions have proven true. From 2000 to 2003, drunk-driving deaths began to inch upward again, after two decades of decline…. People with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above .10 account for 77 percent of alcohol-related fatalities (the average drunk driving fatality involves a BAC of .17). In other words, motorists with very high blood alcohol levels account for an increasing percentage of highway fatalities, but a decreasing percentage of arrests.

Of course, the federal government still doesn’t get it. The top bullet point in the NTSB’s press release’s action agenda was to install yet more "frequent and statewide sobriety checkpoints."… Roadblocks have also turned into naked money-generators. A study of five Sacramento roadblocks found 22 suspected DUI arrests, but 315 citations and 215 vehicle confiscations for unrelated offenses. A newspaper account of a North Carolina roadblock reported 45 non-DWI offenses and just 3 suspected DWIs. A study of a recent San Diego roadblock found 1,169 stops, 27 citations, 10 vehicles impounded — and one DUI arrest.

Here in D.C., police have been criticized for keeping a database of personal information collected from all motorists stopped at roadblocks — even those accused of no infraction at all. Many police departments have grown so frustrated with the process that they’ve given up roadblocks altogether, as well as the federal funding that comes with them…

In the larger picture, Congress should revisit its blanket .08 standard. The evidence so far suggests that the lower threshold is not only targeting motorists who aren’t significantly impaired, it may well be making our roads more dangerous.

Finally, signs of politically incorrect intelligence in the media, along with the courage to challenge MADD’s evangelical crusade toward Prohibition.

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