MADDness

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on May 30th, 2006

Someone once described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and always expecting a different result…

This month's (May 2006) "MADD E-newsletter" contains the following call to arms (and request for more contributions):

Drunk Driving Deaths On The Rise

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta declared highway traffic deaths a "national tragedy" when the Department of Transportation's National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its preliminary Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data showing that 43,200 people died on the nation's highways, up from 42,636 in 2004. The data also shows that, alarmingly, alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased 1.7 percent from 16,694 in 2004 to 16,972 in 2005.

This was accompanied by a link to the following commentary on their website:

"MADD is profoundly concerned about the unsettling increase in drunk driving fatalities and innocent victims behind the FARS data", says Glynn Birch, MADD national president. "These numbers show that nearly 17,000 of our friends and loved ones died not because of a terrible disease, natural causes or terrorism, but because of someone's senseless decision to drive while intoxicated."

The preliminary data underscores the country's complacency regarding drunk driving, which is taking its toll in precious lives. "America has the level of drunk driving that it chooses to have,"' Birch says. "Drunk driving is a purely man-made disaster and, unlike hurricanes and tsunamis, we know how to stop drunk driving."

Which is exactly what MADD aims to do in achieving its strategic goal to reduce the fatalities resulting from drunk drivers by at least 25 percent by December 31, 2008. To help accomplish this objective, MADD has developed strategies that include: forming strong alliances with every level of law enforcement including prosecutors; achieving maximum seat-belt use; supporting the development of technology to prevent drunk driving; improving the performance and accountability of the DUI criminal justice system.

Well, let's inject a little truth and logic into the hysteria.

First off, a closer look at those statistics — "17,000 of our friends and loved ones died because of someone's senseless decision to drive while intoxicated". As the man said, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Let's take a look at the statistics for "DUI-related traffic fatalities" for the past 10 years (1995-2004) according to MADD's own website. They range from a high of 17,749 in 1996 to a low of 16,572 in 1999. Not much of a difference, is there? Yet, MADD sees 16,972 (one of the lower totals during the period) as an "unsettling increase" and the federal government calls it "alarming". Really?

Of course, the key phrase here is "alcohol-related traffic fatalities", as I pointed out in an earlier post ("A Closer Look at DUI Fatality Statistics"):

Years ago, the statistics kept on traffic fatalities included a category for "alcohol-caused" deaths. To justify such things as sobriety checkpoints, lowered blood alcohol levels and automatic at-the-scene DUI license suspensions, however, these statistics were subtly changed to "alcohol-related". Not "caused", but related.

This meant that a perfectly sober driver who hit and killed an intoxicated pedestrian, for example, would be involved in an "alcohol-related" incident. Similarly, a sober driver who is struck by another sober driver carrying an intoxicated passenger chalked up another "alcohol-related" death. Further, if the officer believes the driver to be intoxicated but chemical tests show he is not, the death is nevertheless reported as "alcohol-related". In fact, if the tests indicate the mere presence of any alcohol at all, say .02%, the fatality will be counted as "alcohol-related".

In 1999, the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed these figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — and issued a report stating that they "raised methodological concerns calling their conclusions into question ". The statistics, the GAO report said, "fall short of providing conclusive evidence that .08% BAC laws were, by themselves, responsible for reductions in alcohol related fatalities."

In other words, the statistics weren't even valid when applied to alcohol-related fatalities, much less alcohol-caused deaths.

So what are the real numbers? The Los Angeles Times also decided to investigate the validity of these statistics. In 2002, NHTSA's figures claimed nearly 18,000 deaths on the nation's highways attributable to drunk driving. The Times found that about 5,000 of these actually involved a drunk driver causing the death of a sober driver, passenger or pedestrian. (Research by other groups, such as "Responsibility in DUI Laws, Inc.", indicate the figure is under 3,000.)

5,000. A fraction of the number being used by the government and political pressure groups like MADD. Despite this irritating little truth, MADD, law enforcement and federal and state governments continue to use the same false statistics to justify the passage of unfair and unconstitutional DUI laws.

Now, let's take MADD's solution to this "alarming" 1.7% increase in fatalities…

"We know how to stop drunk driving", MADD's President proclaims. Well, that's encouraging news: where has this miracle remedy been all these years? We stop drunk driving, apparently, by continuing to do more of the same: more law enforcement, more media coverage, more "improving the performance and accountability of the DUI criminal justice system"…and, of course, more contributions to MADD (according to their website, they now take in over $52 million a year).

By improving the "performance" and "accountability" of the criminal justice system , I assume MADD means fewer constitutional rights, less due process and ever harsher punishment. Well, that's exactly what we've seen for the past 10 years, and according to MADD's own figures it clearly has not worked: there has been a steady increase in criminal penalties over past years, but statistics clearly show that this approach has had no impact. Yet, MADD's response is, "More of the same!".

Is drunk driving a serious problem? Of course. But when hysterical solutions such as "streamlining" our justice system, dismantling the Constitution and imposing ever more severe penalties clearly don't work, perhaps it's time to consider other approaches.

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