Archive for April, 2007

MADD Forced to Remove Fraudulent Claims

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

I see that my favorite charity is in the news again this morning:

Charity Drops ‘Misleading’

Spending Claim

Assertion that 83.6% of donations spent

on programs taken off MADD website

Toronto, Canada.  April 11 — MADD Canada has dropped its claim that 83.6 per cent of donor dollars is spent directly on its programs.

The claim – part of the charity’s pitch that annually raises $12 million – recently disappeared from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving website.

The move follows complaints from key members of the anti-drunk driving charity, and a Star probe that revealed the majority of donor money stays with paid telemarketers, door-knockers and a direct mail company.

Top volunteers have accused MADD of deceptive fundraising practices.

MADD chief executive officer Andrew Murie would not be interviewed by the Star but said in an email that the charity had updated the information as part of “our ongoing dialogue with our donors and supporters.”

For many years, MADD has been saying it spends donor money well. Fundraising pitches typically stated, “83.6 per cent of your donation is spent directly on MADD Canada programs.”

Last fall, as part of an investigation into charity in Canada, the Star analyzed internal financial documents and found that after the fundraising and administration expenses, only 19 cents of each dollar donated to MADD goes to its programs…

Actually, this type of misrepresentation by MADD has been going on for quite awhile (see last year’s post, “MADD Under Fire”).  And it is certainly not limited to Canada: MADD in the U.S. has been criticized repeatedly for its high salaries and overhead-program ratio.

(Thanks to Jeremy Campbell.)


Prosecute Passengers in DUI Cases?

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Let’s hope MADD doesn’t hear about this… 

MOTC Proposes Tougher Law

Against Drunk Driving

Taipei, Taiwan.  April 9 –  Government authorities are seeking to toughen the law against drunk driving, proposing to punish passengers who ride with drunk drivers.

The current law stipulates that a driver whose blood-alcohol level exceeds 0.25mg per liter faces a fine ranging from NT$15,000 to NT$60,000, depending on the type of vehicle driven and the driver’s blood-alcohol content.

But a new joint proposal from the National Police Agency (NPA) and the Ministry of Traffic and Communications (MOTC) would lower the 0.25mg per liter limit to 0.15mg per liter.

The agencies also propose penalties for passengers riding with drunk drivers.

If a driver’s blood-alcohol level exceeds 0.15mg per liter, passengers in his or her vehicle face a fine ranging from NT$6,000 to NT$18,000.

I can see the wheels turning at MADD headquarters:  Why not arrest all immediate relatives of drunk drivers?  Or, at least, anyone who tries to post bail for them?  Or maybe…


Drunk Airline Pilot?…or Dieting?

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

I’ve posted a number of times on the problem of non-specificity of breathalyzers — that is, their inability to distinguish ethyl alcohol from thousands of other chemical compounds.  See ”When Alcohol is Not Alcohol”.  I’ve also discussed specific situations that commonly recur, including the presence of acetone on the breath of diabetics and folks on low-carbohydrate diets.  See “Drunk Driver?…or Diabetic?“ and ”Dieting Can Cause High Breathalyzer Results”.

In today’s news:

Diet Clears Drinking-Arrest Pilot

London, April 7 (BBC)    A pilot arrested on suspicion of being over the alcohol limit has been cleared after tests found heavy dieting had caused his breath to smell like drink.

The Virgin Atlantic employee – held at Heathrow on 31 March before a flight to New York – had failed a breathalyser.

But blood samples taken from the 47-year-old prove his blood-alcohol level was consistent with a non-drinker.

Scientists say low-carbohydrate diets can produce acetone in the body, which may fool breath test equipment.

The long-serving pilot was said to have been on a heavy diet for a long period.

Acetone is a substance produced by the body as it tries to make up the glucose absent from low-carbohydrate diets.

Wayne Jones, a professor in experimental alcohol research at the University of Linkoping in Sweden, told the BBC breathalysers can sometimes fail to distinguish acetone from drink.

“Then there’s a risk you get a false positive reading,” he said.

Of course, prosecutors in the U.S. routinely tell DUI juries that this is just another defense attorney’s smoke-and-mirrors trick.


Smoking and Breathalyzers

Friday, April 6th, 2007

I have mentioned that a primary problem with blood alcohol analysis is that the no two individuals are alike in their physiology and metabolism of alcohol (see, for example, “Convicting the Average Person“, “Racial Differences in the Metabolism of Alcohol” and “High Blood Alcohol — or a Zinc Deficiency?“). Further, many foreign compounds can influence attempts to measure blood alcohol levels (see, for example, “Under the Influence of….Gasoline?“, “Asthma Inhalers Can Cause High Breathalyzer Results” and “Driving Under the Influence of….Paint?“).

One of many other factors that render attempts to estimate an individual’s blood alcohol concentration at a given point in time is smoking.

A scientific study has found that cigarette smoking can influence absorption by the body of alcohol — and thus, among other things, attempts to estimate earlier blood alcohol levels when driving based upon tested levels. Johnson et al., “Cigarette Smoking and Rate of Gastric Emptying: Effect on Alcohol Absorption”, 302 British Medical Journal 20 (1991).

The researchers reported testing blood samples of a group of smokers for blood alcohol levels both after smoking and after prolonged abstinence. The result was that “areas under the venous blood alcohol concentration-time curves between zero and 30 minutes and 60 minutes and the peak blood alcohol concentrations were significantly less during the smoking period compared with the non-smoking period“. (Emphasis added) Gastric emptying was also found to be slower during the smoking evaluation.

The scientists concluded that the effect of smoking on alcohol absorption has “considerable social and medicolegal relevance”, and that the ingestion of nicotine should be taken into when dealing with alcohol metabolism.

Non-specific analysis is another problem causing breath machines to give false readings when the subject is a smoker. As I mentioned in an earlier post, “Why Breathalyzers Don’t Measure Alcohol“, breath machines are actually designed to report the presence of any compound containing the methyl group in its molecular structure, not just alcohol. They cannot distinguish the difference between alcohol and, say, acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde? That’s a compound produced in the liver in small amounts as a by-product in the metabolism of alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol moving from the blood into the lungs has been found to metabolize there as well — and, thus, to produce acetaldehyde there. The amount of acetaldehyde produced in the lungs varies from person to person. However, scientists have found one interesting fact: acetaldehyde concentrations in the lungs of smokers are greater than for non-smokers — far greater. Translated: smokers are more likely to have falsely high readings on a Breathalyzer. “Origin of Breath Acetaldehyde During Ethanol Oxidation: Effect of Long-Term Cigarette Smoking”, 100 Journal of Laboratory Clinical Medicine 908.

End result: because breathalyzers can’t tell the difference between alcohol and acetaldehyde, a higher blood-alcohol reading. And if you are a smoker, a much higher reading.


DUI on Horse

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

So, 20 minutes after posting about the Zamboni DUI, another news story came across my desk — about a woman arrested yesterday in Alabama for riding a horse under the influence.  So much for the brief moment of reason….