Monthly Archives: November 2006

MADD Announces End to Drunk Driving: A Reply

With considerable media fanfare, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has unveiled its latest campaign:

WASHINGTON (November 20, 2006)
– In a bold new effort designed to eradicate one of the nation’s deadliest crimes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) today launched its national Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which aims to literally wipe out drunk driving in the United States…

That’s right: end drunk driving. How? Simple: with technology — primarily by requiring first offenders to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) in their cars. Yet another naive and simplistic solution to a complex problem.

The following is an article I was invited to write in reply, published today in Business Week:

Technology Alone Won’t Tackle Drunk Driving


Government statistics show that alcohol-related fatality figures have been essentially unchanged for the past decade — despite lowered blood alcohol levels, Draconian penalties, DUI roadblocks, legal presumptions of guilt and other assaults on the Constitution.

Recognizing a failed effort, MADD has unveiled with considerable fanfare its latest weapon in the "War on Drunk Driving": the ignition interlock device (IID). The device is not new, of course: it has been in use in many states for several years (with notably little success) and versions are being developed by Saab, Toyota and Nissan for possible installation in future car models as standard equipment. There are, however, two basic reasons this newest "answer" to the drunk driving problem will fail as well.

First, IIDs are inaccurate, unreliable, easily circumvented, dangerous — and ineffective. Unlike the infrared spectroscopic breath instruments used by law enforcement, or even the less sophisticated handheld field units used by officers (deemed too inaccurate to be used in evidence), IIDs are primitive devices that are mounted along with the ashtray in the car’s dashboard — and subject to contaminants, cigarette smoke, vibrations from the road, etc. In any event, an intoxicated person could easily have someone else breath into the device, or simply borrow or rent antoher car. And because IIDs generally require periodic retesting of the driver while the car is underway, the risk from driver distraction alone poses a very real danger.

But how effective are IIDs in achieving MADD’s goal of lowering fatalities? In a study entitled An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Ignition Interlock in California: Report to the Legislature of the State of California, the California DMV concluded:

The expected effect that an IID order/restriction issued by the court would result in a lower rate of subsequent DUI convictions was not observed. (p. 7)

The risk of a subsequent crash was higher for drivers installing an IID, compared to drivers not installing a device; drivers installing an IID had a risk of a subsequent crash that was 84% higher than drivers not installing an IID. (p. 10)

The results of this outcome study clearly show that IIDs are not effective in reducing DUI convictions or incidents for first DUI offenders … Because there is no evidence that interlocks are an effective traffic safety measure for first DUI offenders, the use of the devices should not be emphasized. (p. 22)

The second reason the IID will fail is that, as with other attempts to bring down the alcohol-related fatality figures, the IID does not address the underlying problem.

The risk of DUI-caused fatalities lies not with the social drinkers who represent the vast majority of drivers over .08%, most of whom are in the .08% – .15% range. My own experience from prosecuting and defending thousands of DUIs is that those who cause injury and death on our highways are usually fairly identifiable: the problem alcoholic. This client can usually be identified by two factors: (1) the blood-alcohol level is very high, commonly over .20%, and (2) he/she is a recidivist — that is, a repeat offender.

Thus, the first step is to identify the danger — the relatively small number of "problem drinkers" — and to stop filling our jails with social drinkers.

The second step is to decide what to do with this problem drinker/driver. Our present approach is purely punitive. But if we simply throw the alcoholic in jail for 6 months, what is accomplished? We’ve made the streets safe from him for 6 months — and on the day he gets out, he drives to the nearest bar and resumes his drinking. We have made no real progress: Our jails continue to burst at the seams, and the fatalities continue at their predictable levels.

I would suggest a rehabilitative approach rather than a punitive one, an approach which would actually take a step toward solving the problem rather than waiting for the vicious cycle to begin again. By now, most experts recognize that alcoholism is a disease, not a choice (the "choice" to drive, of course, is made by an inebriated person, and thus a Catch-22). And you don’t treat a disease with incarceration.

We recognize legal incapacity due to mental disease: the plea or verdict is "not guilty by reason of insanity". The defendant is not simply set free, but is hospitalized for treatment of the disease until he is well. Why not treatment for problem drunk drivers who suffer from the (largely genetic) disease of alcoholism? In other words, why not recognize a plea of "not guilty by reason of alcoholism"? Again, this does not mean he "gets off": he will be ordered to undergo rehabilitative therapy. In serious cases, mandatory commitment to a rehabilitative facility may be appropriate.

The choice is fairly simple: Do you want vengeance or safety? Would you prefer to have a chronic drunk driver off the road for a few months — or in control of his disease?

Taylor is a former prosecutor, Fulbright law professor, and author of the standard text "Drunk Driving Defense," 6th ed.; his 11-attorney California DUI law firm is the largest of its kind in the nation.

New DUI Roadblock Tactics

Ever vigilant in the war on drunk driving, the California Highway Patrol is experimenting with interesting new new sobriety checkpoint tactics.

The Latest DUI Exception

From today’s Los Angeles Times, the latest “DUI exception to the Constitution“:

CHP Wants You on Call, Just Briefly

As part of a statewide campaign to reduce alcohol-related deaths, the CHP and the State Department of Transportation are urging motorists — via overhead freeway signs — to call 911 to report drivers they suspect have been drinking….

Although state lawmakers recently outlawed the use of handheld cellphones while driving, (CHP Commissioner Michael) Brown said reporting a possible drunk driver falls under the law’s emergency exception.

When an officer responding to a 911 call takes a drunk driver off the road, “we have saved a life”, Brown said.That same perceived danger also pursuaded the California Supreme Court to allow officers to stop suspected drunk drivers based solely on anonymous tips…

The court’s four-member majority cited “public safety and common sense” in applying a lesser standard to police stops involving DUIs. Anonymous tips for other suspected infractions are generally not enough for police intervention.The three dissenting justices said police should have to witness erratic behavior, as they would in most other criminal situations, before taking action…

It’s “common sense” to say violating the cellphone law is ok because you’ve “saved a life” and therefore it’s an “emergency”? It’s “common sense” to say that anonymous tips are too unreliable to justify police action — except with DUIs?

The Constitution is trumped again, this time by the “common sense exception” to the Fourth Amendment.

But Roadblocks Work, Right?

In my post yesterday concerning seatbelt roadblocks, I mentioned the Supreme Court's approval of DUI roadblocks on the grounds that the Fourth Amendment was outweighed by the Government's interest in reducing the "slaughter on our highways".

I've received a number of replies saying, essentially, "Well, at least they are saving lives, right?".


Question: If DUI roadblocks are so effective, why have the Government's own "alcohol-related fatality" figures remained essentially unchanged for the past ten years — since shortly after the Court gave law enforcement the go-ahead? When the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan v. Sitz decided to ignore the Constitution, it was reversing a Michigan Supreme Court decision which found that DUI roadblocks were a Fourth Amendment violation. As the dissenting justices in the Sitz decision noted, the Michigan decision was based upon studies which concluded that

…the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative. Indeed, the record in this case makes clear that a decision holding these suspicionless seizures unconstitutional would not impede the law enforcement community's remarkable progress in reducing the death toll on our highways.

Ironically, then, that "remarkable progress" appears to have actually come to a halt shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of roadblocks.

(Note: When the Sitz case was sent back to Michigan, that state's Supreme Court again reversed the conviction, this time on the grounds that DUI roadblocks violated the state constitution. As of today, eleven states protect their citizens from roadblocks.)

And Now….Seat Belt Roadblocks

You knew it was coming:

Chicago, IL Nov. 20 – For the first time in Illinois, local and state law enforcement officers will have nighttime seatbelt enforcement zones to ensure that drivers are buckling up, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

The department's division of traffic safety will pay $1 million in overtime to police officers enforcing the state's seat belt law…

This year, 204 law enforcement agencies around Illinois will set up 360 nighttime seat belt enforcement zones around the holidays, in addition to 658 zones set up during the daytime. Officers will operate the zones much like alcohol checkpoints and will look at whether drivers are wearing seat belts.

You may recall my previous discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow decision in Michigan v. Sitz wherein DUI roadblocks (or, more politically correct, "sobriety checkpoints") were constitutionally challenged. Chief Justice Rehnquist admitted that they constituted searches in apparent violation of the Fourth Amendment, but concluded that this was just a "minimal intrusion" into our rights which was outweighed by the fact that "The increasing slaughter on our highways . . . now reaches the astounding figures only heard of on the battlefield".

And after seat belts, what next? Registration and proof of insurance? Identification roadblocks? Don't laugh: the Supreme Court has twice already said that "a similar roadblock to verify driver's licenses and registrations would be permissible to serve a highway safety interest". 

So where does it stop? This is what is known in the legal trade as precedent, also known as "opening the door": it does not stop.

(Thanks to Radley Balko at Reason .)