Archive for November, 2006

Alcohol vs Cell Phone: Which is More Dangerous?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

The erratic driving observed by a police officer triggering his stop of the vehicle for investigation of DUI is often caused by innocent behavior. Driving distractions such as using cell phones, lighting cigarettes, eating food or changing CDs can cause such symptoms of drunk driving as "swerving" or "drifting" — along with the officer's incorrect conclusion that the driver is intoxicated.The fact is, however, that this distractive behavior can be even more dangerous than intoxication.

For years government agencies have warned against the use of cell phones while driving. The National Safety Council and the Transport Research Laboratory (United Kingdom), for example, have used driving simulators to test reaction times and driving performance. And the American Automobile Association has gathered statistics on drivers involved in serious motor vehicle accidents. 

A detailed study on the effects of cell phone use on driving was conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, and reported in a paper entitled Fatal Distraction? A Comparison of the Cell-Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver given at the Second International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driving Assessment, Training and Design (July 2003). Using a simulator, the researchers measured how subjects reacted to vehicles braking in front of them.

Results? Drivers conversing on a cell phone were involved in more rear-end collisions, and their reactions were 8% slower relative to normal baseline; it also took them 15% longer to return to normal speed. By contrast, drivers who were at or above .08% blood-alcohol levels showed no higher accident rates than normal, nor did they exhibit significant variation from normal baselines for reaction times or return to normal speeds.

The conclusion of the researchers: Drivers on cell phones showed greater impairment, less responsive behavior and more accidents than "drunk" drivers.


Justices Under Pressure in DUI Cases

Monday, November 13th, 2006

The following story appeared in USA Today a few days ago:

O'Connor Worries About Courts' Autonomy

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said she fears judges are under growing political attack nationwide.

"I'm increasingly concerned about the current climate of challenge to judicial independence," O'Connor told a gathering of state judges from around the country Friday. "Unhappiness with judges today is at a very intense level."…

One of the tactics employed by MADD in recent years is intimidating ("monitoring") judges in DUI cases, reporting on their actions, and compiling statistics to be used in the media at election time. The following is just one example of this coercive tactic:

Local MADD Activists Plan to Sit in on DUI Cases

The Virginian-Pilot, October 31. A few extra sets of eyes and ears soon will be monitoring drunken driving cases in courtrooms throughout Hampton Roads.

Activists with Mothers Against Drunk Driving plan to mobilize volunteers who will go daily to general district and circuit courts and record details of drunken driving cases, said Linda Kaye Walsh, vice chairwoman of the group’s state chapter.

MADD already has volunteers in court systems in 10 states, including North Carolina, who sit through proceedings, filling out forms that track details such as the names of the defendants, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys and the disposition of each case….

The goal of ''court monitoring,” Walsh and others said, is to look at how the judicial system as a whole deals with DUI cases…. “I’m excited,” (Walsh) said, holding up her ever-growing manila file folder with information about dozens of cases. “And here’s a prime example of why.”

Walsh has long been critical of attorneys who try to get DUI charges lowered to reckless driving. She said she hopes that having the volunteer observers in the courtrooms will discourage the practice. [Emphasis added] “It’s putting the judges on notice,” she said. “It’s putting the prosecutors and attorneys on notice as well.”

Imagine you are accused of drunk driving. Now imagine that you are in a courtroom where the judge and prosecutor are being watched by silent observers in the audience, observers who want your conviction and the maximum penalty — and who can influence reelections.

Big Mother is watching.


Cops Taking Blood by Force?

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

I’ve received a lot of responses to my post yesterday ("The War on Drunk Driving Continues"), most expressing disbelief that forceful drawing of blood by a cop was legal in this country. This reenforces my view that folks here don’t realize what’s really happening in this so-called "War on Drunk Driving" (see "The DUI Exception to the Constitution").

Months ago, I posted on the recent and growing practice of spread-eagling DUI suspects on the hoods of their cars while one cop jams in a needle ("Would You Want a Cop Taking Blood from You?"). I followed this up with "Forceful Draws by Cops: Constitutional?". And you might want to read the old pre-Rehnquist Supreme Court’s position on this type of thing in my post "Taking Blood by Force", which was that a DUI blood draw was a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and that it must be done under "humane and medically acceptable" circumstances. Not any more.

Wake up, folks….


The War on Drunk Driving Continues…

Friday, November 10th, 2006

The latest from the front lines:

Woman on Golf Cart Arrested for DUI

Rapid City, SD (Nov. 9) AP – A Keystone woman was arrested early Thursday for DUI – after she was stopped while driving a golf cart.

A Rapid City police officer was on patrol around midnight when he met a woman on a golf cart driving on the road. The police report said the officer put on his emergency lights and tried to stop the golf cart because it had no lights and was a threat to traffic. The driver would not stop at first but finally did after she realized she couldn't outrun the squad car, according to police.

The officer smelled alcohol on her breath and tried to draw a blood sample as part of the new mandatory blood test, but when the woman became uncooperative, it took a couple of officers to hold her so they could get the blood sample, the police report said.

Let's see, the police version is that this woman tried to outrun a squad car in a golf cart? And then two cops manhandled this fleeing desperado — while the angry arresting cop (a highly trained medical professional, no doubt) jabbed a needle (under sterile conditions, no doubt) into her arm, probing (gently, no doubt) for a vein? (I can't imagine why she would be "uncooperative" under those conditions.) And the only reason for this violent blood draw was that she was driving a golf cart without lights and had an odor of alcohol on her breath? I wonder what her version is?

In police circles, this is known as "flunking the attitude test"…followed by summary execution of punishment.

(Thnaks to Hockey Bobc.)


MADD Bill Introduced: .05%

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

For a look into the (near) future, the following is from a MADD Canada press release:

MP’s Bill Will Establish New Impaired

Driving Law at 0.05% BAC Level

MP Ron Cannan has support of MADD Canada in efforts to reduce 
risk of death and injury on Canadian roads

Oakville, Ontario. Oct. 31 – A Private Members Bill to set a new 0.05% BAC legal limit for drinking and driving was introduced today by Kelowna British Columbia MP Ron Cannan.

MADD Canada supports the MP’s initiative because it will ’significantly reduce the numbers of Canadians being killed and injured in impaired driving crashes.’…The MADD Canada Legal Director explains: "The proposed .05% BAC offence is designed to deter impaired driving without being unduly punitive, or creating greater burdens on the police and the courts. The ticket option of pleading guilty without having to go to court may discourage accused persons from needlessly challenging the charges."

The important thing is to "discourage" folks from "challenging the charges" and not "burden" the police and courts.

MADD’s next step on the road to Prohibition, of course, is to simply extend the so-called zero tolerance (.01%-.02%) laws for drivers under 21 to all of us.