Monthly Archives: May 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.
The following findings reported in the May 22, 2006 issue of Digestive Disease Week indicate that you might want to be as concerned about the mixer in your drink as the amount of alcohol before you get behind the wheel:
When alcohol is mixed with beverages such as orange juice or soda, the rate of alcohol absorption into the blood stream depends not only on the individual, but also the "mixer." Researchers at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia analyzed alcoholic beverages mixed with diet or regular soda (with sucrose) to determine the rate of gastric emptying and blood alcohol response. They found that alcohol combined with sugar-free mixers were processed through the stomach and entered the blood stream much more quickly than alcohol with regular mixers.
Researchers analyzed eight male volunteers who consumed orange-flavored vodka beverages with both a diet mixer and regular mixer. Participants were monitored to track the rate at which the mixer was emptied from the stomach and their subsequent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. From this study, the team discovered that the substitution of artificial sweeteners for sucrose in mixed alcoholic beverages may have a substantial effect on the rate of gastric emptying and the blood alcohol response. The time to empty half of the diet drink from the stomach was 21 minutes, compared to regular drinks which took 36 minutes for the same degree of emptying. Peak blood alcohol concentrations were substantially greater with diet drinks at an average of 0.05 percent, while regular drinks measured at 0.03 percent BAC.
"Today, more and more people are shifting personal preferences by choosing 'diet' drinks as a healthier alternative," said Chris Rayner, M.D., of Royal Adelaide Hospital and lead author of the study. "What people do not understand is the potential side effects that diet mixed alcoholic drinks may have on their body's response to alcohol."
It just gets weirder….
Gee Whiz! New York Will Fight DWI with Talking Urinals
New York Takes Crusade Against Drunk Driving to the Men’s Room
May 17, 2006. ABC News — The battle against drunken driving is going straight into the toilet, as New York plans to install motion-activated soap pucks, known as Wizmarks, in the urinals of 100 men’s rooms at drinking establishments across Long Island’s Nassau County.
When guys leave a bar, the bathroom is usually the first place they visit before they go to their cars. And now, when men step up to the urinal at participating pubs, they’ll hear this public service announcement as they relieve themselves:
“Hey, you! Yeah, you! Having a few drinks? Then, listen up! Think you’ve had one too many? Maybe it’s time to call a cab or call a sober friend for a ride home. It’s sure safer and a hell of a lot cheaper than a DWI! Make the smart choice tonight. Don’t drink and drive!”
So what do they put in the women’s room?
As defense attorneys know, the chances of getting fairness and due process in a drunk driving case are minimal. Most judges today are former prosecutors (“How to Lose a DUI Trial Before it Starts”), but more importantly they are under considerable political pressure. Put simply, most judges want to be reelected.
I’ve posted in the past about the coercive effect of groups like MADD monitoring judges and prosecutors in DUI cases (“Big Mother is Watching”). How far are some judges willing to go to appease these pressure groups?
Gallegos Accused of Altering DWI Sentences
Santa Fe, NM. Aug. 7, 2005 Santa Fe Municipal Judge Frances Gallegos systematically altered records of numerous DWI cases, often inflating jail sentences and the amount of time defendants spent behind bars, according to documents and a former court clerk.
The months-long project involving various members of her court staff began a little over a year ago after an anti-driving-while-intoxicated organization criticized Gallegos for allowing 92 percent of Santa Fe’s worst drunken drivers to escape with no jail time.
“I really think she was trying to make like she was tough on DWIs by putting in jail time,” said Jeremy Hanika, a former administrative assistant to Municipal Court Administrator Mary Anne Caldwell. “I mean, we started the project the very next day after the report came out.”
Gallegos, 55, responded to the group’s criticism by asserting she had been sentencing people to jail but her clerks had not been writing the sentences on reports sent to the state’s Motor Vehicle Division.
“I can assure you,” the judge said in May 2004, “anyone convicted of an aggravated DWI in my court is getting at least the minimum sentence, which by law is two days.”
The next day, Gallegos ordered her clerks to pull not only every aggravated DWI case she had ever adjudicated in her nearly 10 years on the bench, but every DWI case she’d ever handled. Gallegos then retroactively reported jail-sentence information missing from the documents sent to the Motor Vehicle Division.
A study of some of the documents shows that the retroactive reports — specifically the jail time sentenced and the time defendants actually spent in jail — often did not match the original reports…
A couple of months later:
Agent Alleges Judge Altered DWI Files
Santa Fe, NM Oct. 29, 2005. Suspended Municipal Judge Frances Gallegos appears to have altered closed driving-while-intoxicated case files to misrepresent her conviction record on drunken-driving cases, according to a state police investigation.
‘Falsifying a public record is a felony,’ state police Agent Patrick Oakeley said in a search-warrant affidavit filed Friday morning in District Court…
(Administrative Assistant Jeremy) Hanika told Oakeley that Gallegos ordered the DWI files to be pulled after she was criticized by an anti-drunken-driving group for being lenient on jail time for DWI offenders…
Hanika said Gallegos used white-out to blot out the jail time he had correctly written on the amended form and write in a larger amount of jail time in purple ink, according to the affidavit…
As most judges realize, it’s a lot easier and a lot safer to just rule in the prosecution’s favor at every opportunity.
(Thanks to Troy McKinney.)
Following on the heels of the recent story about sting operations in Texas where patrons were arrested in bars by undercover cops for drinking too much ("New Tactic: Preemptive Arrests"), this story out of New Mexico:
Police to Breath Test Pedestrians
Albuquerque, May 18. KOBTV Investigators targeting bars for over serving customers intend to add another tool to their belt in coming weeks: They'll be asking for breath tests from pedestrians.
Agents of the Special Investigations Division, which monitors alcohol laws, will be stationing extra officers in downtown Albuquerque. If anyone is seen stumbling out of a downtown bar, he or she could be asked to blow into a portable breathalyzer…
(SID agent Jim) Plagens says that any pedestrian approached by an agent and asked to submit to a breath test is perfectly within his or her rights to refuse. 'Then we send them along their way 'so long as there are no other violations,' he said.
So long as there are no other violations….aka, "flunking the attitude test": How many cops who don't like being told "no" will decide that the uncooperative citizen is "drunk in public"? How many citizens will not feel coerced into taking the test? And how many cops will tell — not ask — the citizen to blow into the device?
(Thanks to Jeanne Pruett.)