Monthly Archives: November 2006

“He Who is Without Sin”

Just in from the battlefront in Riverside County, California:

The California Highway Patrol’s Inland assistant chief was arrested by his own CHP officers for drunken driving after allegedly crashing his CHP-issued Ford Crown Victoria into a parked car.

Michael Maples, 58, was arrested at his home in Reche Canyon about 11:15 p.m. Thursday after he lost control of the Crown Victoria and struck the car in his driveway, CHP Capt. Sharon Baker said Monday.

Indio, CA Nov. 21 (AP)
– A veteran Riverside County sheriff’s sergeant was charged with two felony drunken driving counts for a major injury off-duty crash in Rancho Mirage…

Sgt. Richard Kamstra, who is also charged with a special allegation of causing serious injuries to a victim, surrendered Monday, district attorney’s spokeswoman Ingrid Wyatt said. He was booked and released on $50,000 bond.

Kamstra, whose blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, was involved in a Sept. 24 three-car wreck at Dinah Shore and Mission Hills. Rancho Mirage resident Gene Fasciana suffered major injuries to his left leg and a teenage boy was also injured.

“I have seen the enemy…and he is us.” (With apologies to Pogo and Walt Kelly.)

Ignition Interlock Devices: Dangerous but Profitable

Individuals convicted of DUI are increasingly required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed (at their expense) in their cars — and, as mentioned in yesterday's post, eventually requiring them as standard equipment in all vehicles. These notoriously inaccurate and unreliable gizmos are designed to prevent the ignition from working until after the driver has breathed into a mouthpiece and registered alcohol-free (although it takes little imagination to realize that a drunk driver can start the car by simply having his passenger breathe into the device).

This latest weapon in the "war on drunk driving" has been adopted in many states with the strong lobbying of MADD — and of manufacturers who make a huge profit on the devices. Consider a story in today's (March 16, 2005) Arizona Republic:

First-time DUI offenders could agree to equip their vehicles with an ignition interlock device to prevent drunken driving rather than face suspended driver's licenses under a bill that breezed through the Senate on Tuesday…..

Alberto Gutier, a former highway safety director lobbying for the Arizona Interlock Distributors Association, said increased sales isn't the bill's purpose. (Emphasis added.)

"It's not about expanding the market, it's about preventing drunk driving," Gutier said.

The bottom line, of course, is: Do IIDs prevent drunk driving? Do they make our streets safer? MADD claims that their "research" shows they do:

Interlocks have been shown to be effective in Maryland, Alberta, California and elsewhere with results ranging from 50 to 90 percent reductions in subsequent offenses by those offenders who were assigned interlock devices, compared with those who were not…..

While interlocks are not the only solution, as offenders tend to go back to their old ways once the device is off of the vehicle, they certainly keep the roads safer while these devices are in place.

Effective in California? Keep the roads safer? The California Department of Motor Vehicles released a study entitled An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Ignition Interlock in California: Report to the Legislature of the State of California. Among their conclusions:

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)

Facts notwithstanding, MADD continues its campaign for mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices.

All U.S. Cars to Have Ignition Interlock Devices?

Coming soon to a car dealer near you…

New Tech Push Against Drunk Driving

MADD seeks spread of ignition interlocks that prevent driving
with high blood alcohol levels

CBS, Nov. 20. You have a few drinks, climb behind the wheel of your car, turn the key and — nothing. The engine doesn’t turn over, the car doesn’t move.

If Mothers Against Drunk Driving has its way, a device that checks a driver’s alcohol levels will be mandatory in cars owned by anyone ever convicted of drunk driving, and, eventually, every automobile…(Emphasis added.)

There are nearly 1.5 million drunken driving arrests last year, but only 100,000 ignition interlocks are currently in use, so even tagging first offenders isn’t really enough, says MADD…

"There are going to be different types of technology, such as trans-dermal detection that will have sensors to detect the blood alcohol level of an individual before he starts the car, so it doesn’t allow the car to start," said (MADD President Glynn) Birch.

Another system has a Breathalyzer tube that the driver must blow into before starting the car, The (New York) Times reports. A third detects that a car is weaving down the road, and possible driven by an impaired driver.

"Biometric detection or identification will work like a thumbprint to identify and also give us an idea of who the driver is," Birch said.

Those systems might eventually test all drivers, whether or not they have ever been convicted of drunken driving…

The New York Times reports that "
Two companies have introduced products that hint at future strategies. Saab, which is owned by General Motors, is testing in Sweden a Breathalyzer that attaches to a key chain and will prevent a car from starting if it senses too much alcohol…" (Note: Toyota and Nissan have already announced tentative plans to develop and install IIDs as standard equipment in future models.)

(Thanks to David R. Teddy and Lenny Stamm)

Court: No Life Insurance Benefits to Widow if Husband DUI

Just when I thought the insanity could go no further:

Court Says Drunk Driving Violated Life Policy

Richmond, Va. Nov. 18 – ING Groep NV, the largest Dutch financial-services company, can refuse to pay a life insurance claim from the widow of a West Virginia man who drank before dying in a car crash, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled.

Under terms of the policy, claims are payable only if an accident is "unexpected," the three-judge panel said. The man's blood-alcohol level was 50 percent higher than the legal limit, so he knowingly put himself at risk, the court said.

So the widow gets nothing because the husband was .12% and….death was to be expected? So am I "at risk" if I'm speeding? Riding a motorcycle? Why is sky diving not risky, but DUI is? Or are we looking at yet another example of the "DUI exception"?

Alcohol vs Cell Phone: Which is More Dangerous?

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.