Archive for January 18th, 2006

Random Breath Testing in the Future?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

 

In the continuing "war on drunk driving" and its damage to the Constitution, what new weapons will be tried? One, certainly, would be randomly pulling drivers over for no reason and forcing them to take breath tests. Sound far-etched? They’ve been doing it in Victoria, Australia, for years:
 


In response to the magnitude of the alcohol affected driving problem in Victoria in 1977, the Government of the day introduced random interception and testing of drivers for the presence of alcohol without the intercepting police being required to have any previous knowledge of any alcohol affect on that driver. This was the birth of Random Breath Testing as we now know it. The original objective of this legislation was to identify and prosecute all drivers found to have a B.A.C. over .05% and remove them from our roadways….

An investigation in 1987 throughout Australia on R.B.T. by Prof Ross Homel and others found that the apparent effectiveness of R.B.T. was due to its preventative capacities rather than the detection of offenders for which it was originally designed (Homel, Caseldine and Kearns, 1988). It is now accepted in Victoria that the true objective of R.B.T. is "to create a perception amongst the driving public that if they drink then drive, their apprehension is inevitable". Whether that threat is real or otherwise is not the point, the key is whether the public believes it to be….

 

But this is America, you say. We have the Fourth Amendment, which prevents police from stopping you without probable cause to believe you have commited a crime. Then why do we have DUI roadblocks? Because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Michigan v. Sitz that stops without warrant or suspicion was "justified" by the severity of the drunk driving problem (also known as "The DUI Exception to the Constitution").

When MADD discovers random breath testing (followed inevitably by politicians falling over themselves passing laws to accommodate them), do you really think the Court will take a different view?

(Interestingly, the Irish are considering random breath testing, but the proposed law is considered unlikely to pass because it appears to be a violation of their constitution’s proportionality provision: laws cannot be "excessively powerful in proportion to the objectives they are meant to achieve". Not a bad concept for this country — but it would mean the end of DUI roadblocks, among many other things.)
 


(Thanks to Richard Diamond for the Australia information.)

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