Monthly Archives: April 2007

News Flash: Penalties Don’t Deter DUI

I’ve argued ad nauseum in the past that the ever-harsher penalties successfully championed by MADD will have little if any impact on the incidence of either drunk driving or DUI-related fatalities. This has been borne out by federal statistics showing zero reduction in “alcohol-related” fatalities over the past ten years. See “Lies, Damned Lies and MADD Statistics”. Now the academics are beginning to point out the obvious:

Study: Penalties No Deterrent for Drunken Drivers

Gainseville, Florida – Tougher punishments may not be effective in deterring people from driving drunk, according to a study by University of Florida researchers.

Increases in the minimum jail time keep few drunken drivers off the road and don’t significantly prevent fatal car crashes, according to the study, published last week in the online edition of the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention.

The researchers looked at the changes in laws and policies for driving under the influence between 1976 and 2002. They also studied the rates of DUI arrests and fatal alcohol-related car crashes.

Alexander C. Wagenaar, lead author of the study and epidemiology professor in the UF College of Medicine, said researchers wanted to find out if stricter regulations deterred people from drinking and driving and if the number of accidents would drop in the population as a whole.

“We found out that’s not the case,” he said.

Chronic Cough? Don’t Take a Breath Test

Fact: breathalyzers are often inaccurate and commonly unreliable. See "How Breathalyzers Work — and Why They Don't". And one of the many reasons for this inaccuracy/unreliability is that the machines assume the breath sample being measured is alveolar air — that is, air from deep within the lungs.  To calculate the amount of alcohol in the blood, the amount of alcohol in the breath sample is multiplied by the breathalyzer's internal computer.  If, however, the sample is not from the lungs but from the mouth, throat or stomach, the amount of alcohol should not be multiplied, or the result will be falsely high. But the machine doesn't know any better, so…. (See "The Mouth Alcohol Problem".)

One common source of mouth alcohol is gastroesophogeal reflux disease, known as GERD.  How common?  According to medical authorities, the lifetime incidence of GERD in the U.S. population is 25-35%.  In a person with GERD, alcohol rises from the stomach into the esophogus and oral cavity — to be breathed directly into a breathalyzer. See "High Breathalyzer Readings from Acid Reflux". So you shouldn't take a breath test if you're in that 1/3 of the population.

But you don't have GERD, you say, you're in perfect health — except for this nagging cough…

GERD and Chronic Cough

GERD should be suspected as the cause of chronic cough whenever a patient complains of frequent episodes of typical gastrointestinal symptoms such as daily heartburn and regurgitation, especially when the chest radiograph or clinical picture suggests an aspiration syndrome. Alternatively, cough may be the only symptom of GERD; in prospective studies, such so-called silent GERD has accounted for 43% to 75% of cases. In the absence of gastrointestinal symptoms, chronic cough can be confidently attributed to GERD if the patient is a nonsmoker, is not taking an ACE inhibitor, and has a normal or near-normal chest radiograph, and asthma, upper airway cough syndrome, and nonallergic eosinophilic bronchitis have been ruled out; 92% of patients with silent GERD fit this clinical profile. Failure to obtain a history of nocturnal coughing does not exclude GERD as a cause of cough. When the chest radiograph is normal, cough from GERD most commonly occurs while the patient is awake and upright and it usually does not occur or is not noted at all during sleep.  Irwin, "Chronic cough due to gastroesophageal reflux disease: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines", 129 Chest 129 (1 suppl), 2006.

Chronic cough = GERD = mouth alcohol = false high breath test results.

(Thanks to Troy McKinney of Houston.)

What Happens to Cops Who Drive Drunk?

Not much…

Decision on Jupiter Officer in DUI Stop

Delayed to Review Uncut Tape

Jupiter, Florida.  April 24  –  Town Manager Andy Lukasik said he plans to take several weeks before ruling on the possible termination of Officer Jeffrey Sprauer because local police were given an edited version of the videotape of Sprauer's alleged DUI traffic stop in Stuart in December.

Lukasik said Tuesday he now has been given the "original" tape, including 18 minutes that apparently were deleted by Stuart police before a copy was furnished to the Jupiter Police Department.

Jupiter police conducted an internal affairs investigation following the Dec. 20 stop, in which Sprauer was picked up by Stuart police on suspicion of driving under the influence. Sprauer was not arrested for DUI but allowed to be taken home from the scene…

MADD’s Solution: Get Rid of the Lawyers

Another rational approach to the drunk driving problem from the Mad Mothers, this time from their new "Impaired Driving Guidebook: Three Keys to Renewed Focus and Success", issued jointly with the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  From page 16 of that document:


- A judiciary that struggles to define itself and maintain its objectivity in the face of aggressive defense attorneys.

- An organized DUI defense bar more concerned with "winning a case" than with the carnage on our streets and highways…

At long last, the DUI problem has been identified:  It's those darned lawyers!  Now, if they would stop being so aggressive and just plead everyone guilty, we can stop all that carnage overnight…

(Thanks to Doug Hazelton and Troy V. Huser.)

The DUI Problem

I think it is clear by now to most rational individuals that the so-called “War on Drunk Driving” has proven an abject failure.  The statistical evidence is certainly clear:  despite MADD’s hysterical approach to the problem and ever-harsher penalties, the incidence of alcohol-related fatalities has remained fairly constant for the past ten years (see my earlier post “The Insanity of DUI Laws”). 

The following is from an article in the April 2007 issue of Scientific American:

Seeking the Connections: Alcoholism and Our Genes

The tendency to become dependent on alcohol has long been known to run in families, which for some only added to the social stigma attached to this complicated condition. But to scientists, that apparent heritability suggested that some genetic component underlying vulnerability to alcohol problems was being transmitted from generation to generation.

With rapid advances over the past 10 years in technologies for discovering and analyzing the functions of genes, researchers are now increasingly able to get at the biological roots of complex disorders such as substance abuse and addiction. The power to examine patterns of inheritance in large populations, and to survey hundreds of thousands of tiny variations in the genomes of each of those individuals, enables investigators to pinpoint specific genes that exert strong or subtle influences on a person’s physiology and his or her resulting risk for disease.

As is true of many other human disorders, alcoholism does not have a single cause, nor is its origin entirely genetic. Genes can play an important role, however, by affecting processes in the body and brain that interact with one another and with an individual’s life experiences to produce protection or susceptibility. Teasing these effects apart is challenging, and to date fewer than a dozen genes that influence one’s risk for alcoholism have been identified, although more surely exist…

This is not new information.  In a book I wrote while teaching at law school over 20 years ago, Born to Crime: The Genetic Causes of Criminal Behavior (London:  Greenwood Press), an entire chapter was devoted to the extensive research which had clearly established a genetic  component to alcoholism.  Obviously, subsequent research has only confirmed those findings.

All of which raises the question I’ve posed repeatedly in the past.  Clearly, a disproportionately large percentage of alcohol-related fatalities are caused by a small percentage of those arrested for DUI: the “problem drinkers”, usually identifiable by high blood-alcohol levels and prior convictions.  If so, does it make sense to use a behavior modification model (jail, fines, DUI schools, etc.) in dealing with a problem which is largely genetic in origin?  Or is it time to consider a new approach?

For past discussions of the issue, see Not Guilty by Reason of Alcoholism?”, Are Alcoholics Protected by the ADA in DUI Cases?”, Alcohol and Race” and Time for a Change”.

(Thanks to Troy V. Huser for the Scientific American article.)