Monthly Archives: April 2007

Prosecute Passengers in DUI Cases?

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?

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.

DUI on Ice

A brief, shining moment of reason in the War on Drunk Driving: 

Zamboni Operator Can't be Charged with

Drunk Driving, Judge Rules

Newark, NJ.  April 3 (AP) –  It's not drunken driving in New Jersey if it involves a Zamboni.

A judge ruled the four-ton ice rink-grooming machines aren’t motor vehicles because they aren't useable on highways and can’t carry passengers.

Zamboni operator John Peragallo had been charged with drunken driving in 2005 after a fellow employee at the Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown told police the machine was speeding and nearly crashed into the boards…

Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph D’Onofrio said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

Where was this common sense when they convicted folks for DUI on wheelchairslawnmowershorses – and even a foot-high toy bike?  (See "Stretching the Language of DUI Laws".)

Another Drunk…or Diabetic

Yesterday I discussed the problem of chemical compounds on the breath which are falsely reported as ethyl alcohol by breathalyzers.  Diabetics, for example, have elevated levels of acetones on their breath when hypoglycemic.  Unfortunately, they also exhibit false symptoms of intoxication — as today's news demonstrates:

Mistaken for Drunk, Mr. Universe is Arrested

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.  April 3 (AP)  – The reigning Mr. Universe faces assault and resisting arrest charges following a run-in with police who mistakenly believed the diabetic bodybuilder was intoxicated.

Doug Burns, 43, was sprayed with Mace and wrestled to the ground by officers who were summoned to a movie theater Sunday night by a security guard, authorities said.

Burns, who was trying a new diabetes drug that night, said Monday he was preparing to see a film when he felt dizziness and poor vision — a sign of low blood sugar — and hurried to a snack counter.

The security guard noticed Burns' strange behavior and asked him to leave, thinking he was intoxicated, Redwood City Police Capt. Chris Cessina said.

When officers arrived, Burns allegedly lunged at one of them, pushing him to the ground with both hands, and took a fighting stance, Cessina said. Burns continued being combative until four officers wrestled him down, the captain said.

During the scuffle, the officers did not notice Burns' Medic Alert bracelet. An on-scene medical test later confirmed that Burns had low blood sugar during the incident, Cessina said…

Setting aside the question of whether you believe a diabetic weakened by hypoglycemia would assault four cops for no reason, this is another example of a commonly-encountered phenomena in DUI arrests.  See "Drunk Driver?…or Diabetic?" and "The Diabetic DUI".

But it's not really a problem, right?  I mean, how many diabetics falsely charged with DUI can there be out there?  From the American Diabetes Association:

There are 20.8 million children and adults in the United States, or 7% of the population, who have diabetes. While an estimated 14.6 million have been diagnosed, unfortunately, 6.2 million people (or nearly one-third) are unaware that they have the disease…

Dieting Causes False Positives on Ignition Interlocks

As I’ve railed repeatedly in the past, breath testing machines are inaccurate and unreliable for a wide number of reasons.  (See "How Breathalyzers Work – and Why They Don’t").  One of these reasons is that they are non-specific for alcohol.  Consider this recent news story:

Diet Driving: Low-Calorie Diet

Produces False Positives for Alcohol

Swedish researchers have discovered that a low-calorie diet can register a false positive on certain in-car ignition interlock devices that disable a vehicle if alcohol is detected on one’s breath.

The anomaly was discovered when a non-drinking airplane pilot reported the incident. Turns out the man was on a very restrictive diet that had him losing weight rapidly, which is what may have caused the false reading. As reported in the latest issue of the International Journal of Obesity, motorists on very low-calorie diets may release certain ketones that could be converted into a secondary alcohol known as isopropanol.

Police officials point out that false positives are eliminated in the field as breathalyzer tests are used in conjunction with secondary tests that focus on the type of alcohol and other factors. No citation for drunk driving would be issued in those situations. However, if you have one of these interlock devices on your car, your low-cal diet could spell the demise of your travel plans.

And "police officials" don’t know what they are talking about.  Most "breathalyzers" have the same problem as ignition interlock devices: they are non-specific for ethyl alcohol — that is, they can’t distinguish between ethyl alcohol and thousands of other chemical compounds, among them ketones.  See my earlier posts, "Why Breathalyzers Don’t Measure Alcohol" and "Dieting Can Cause High Breathalyzer Results".

The same problem is commonly encountered with diabetics, who have elevated levels of ketones on their breath when they are hypoglycemic.  See "Drunk Driver?…or Diabetic?" and "The Diabetic DUI".

(Thanks to Troy McKinney.)