Monthly Archives: August 2007

Secret Breathalyzer Software Still Secret

As I've written repeatedly in the past, a DUI/DWI case has degenerated essentially into a "trial by machine".  If the machine says the blood alcohol level is .08% or higher, the law presumes him to be guilty — and at trial the jury will be so instructed.

I've also written ad nauseum about the myriad problems that render these machines inaccurate and unreliable.  Among other things, for example, their operation and computation of blood alcohol levels is controlled by an old Z-80 microprocessor — an historical antique that used to drive the original Pong computer game.  

And as the computer techs are fond of saying, "Garbage in, garbage out". 

So wouldn't it be nice to know just what the computer source code was in this antique that determines guilt or innocence?

One attorney in Minnesota, Jeffrey Sheridan, thought so, and asked the court to order the prosecution to turn over the code for inspection.  "For all we know," he said, "it's a random number generator".  The court agreed. 

End of story?  Hardly.  After all, this is a drunk driving case, where the "DUI exception to the Constitution" applies.

Doubts Arise Over Fate of Breathalyzer

Source Code in Minn. Case

 An attorney for a Minnesota man accused of drunken driving says he doesn't think the manufacturer of a breathalyzer will meet a court-imposed deadline of August 17 to turn over its source code.

August 10, Minneapolis  -  The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled late last month that source code for the Intoxilyzer 5000EN, made by a Kentucky-based company called CMI, must be handed over to defense attorneys for use in a case involving charges of third-degree DUI against a man named Dale Lee Underdahl. CMI's historic resistance to such demands has led to charges being dropped in at least one case outside of Minnesota.

In this case, the high court concluded that language in the contract between CMI and the state indicates the source code belongs by extension to Minnesota, rejecting the state public safety commissioner's earlier argument that the state was not entitled to the code because of its confidential, copyrighted and proprietary nature. The decision effectively means it's now up to the state to do what it takes to enforce that contract–including suing the company, if necessary.

But as for when the code would be turned over, "I guess the answer is probably never," attorney Jeffrey Sheridan said in a telephone interview Friday. That's because state officials, he added, "haven't given me any indication that the manufacturer has changed its mind."

It remains unclear what steps Minnesota officials plan to take, as representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. CMI also did not return calls for comment on Friday.

Kind of makes you wonder what the manufacturer is trying to hide, doesn't it?  Maybe the secret software code for computing blood alcohol levels isn't all that it's claimed to be?

And why is the State of Minnesota more interested in protecting the Kentucky corporation's financial interests than the rights of its own citizens?

Feds Pay MADD to Intimidate Judges

Your tax dollars at work:


MADD Wins Court Monitoring Contract

Albuquerque (AP). Aug. 9, 2007 – The New Mexico chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been awarded a $400,000 contract to monitor drunken driving court proceedings in six counties…

New Mexico was selected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2003 as one of only two states to conduct a pilot court monitoring program.

State Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught says the courts are a venue often overlooked by the public in the battle against drunken driving… She says the project will offer a detailed look at what’s happening in the counties on the front line of New Mexico’s anti-DWI efforts.

Do you think maybe judges facing reelections down the road won't be intimidated in their judicial decisions by this tactic?  Or that this is exactly the purpose of the federal grant?  So much for judicial independence in drunk driving cases. 

The Car in Your Future

Coming to your showrooms soon….

 Nissan Gets Testy with Drunk Drivers

 A new concept car designed to keep drunk drivers off the road goes much further than a built-in breathalyzer test.

Reuters, Aug. 3  – Nissan is testing alcohol-detection sensors that check odor, sweat and driver awareness, issue a voice alert from the navigation system and lock up the ignition if necessary.

Odor sensors on the driver and passenger seats read alcohol levels, while a detector in the gear-shift knob measures the perspiration of the driver's palm when starting the car.

Other carmakers with detection systems include Sweden's Volvo, which has developed technology in which drivers blow into a measuring unit in the seat belt before an engine can start. But Nissan's car also includes a mounted camera that monitors alertness by eye scan, ringing bells and issuing a voice message that a driver should pull over and rest.

The car technology is still in development, but Nissan general manager Kazuhiro Doi said the combination of detection systems will ultimately keep an eye on who's behind the wheel. "We've placed odor detectors and a sweat sensor on the gear shift. But for example if the gear-shift sensor was bypassed by a passenger using it instead of the driver, the facial recognition system would be used," Doi said.

Also keeping a short leash on drivers, car seat belts tighten if drowsiness is detected, while an on-road monitor checks whether a car is staying properly inside its lane.

Imagine if even one of these gizmos malfunctions — at high speed.  Note: none of these features measures actual intoxication,  or even blood alcohol levels – they are are triggered by the mere presence of alcohol.  Or maybe a droopy eyelid. So how long do you think before MADD starts pressuring the Feds and state legislatures to make sure this is your next car?

Dial-a-DUI Proving Useless

Many of you are aware of a recent innovation in the War on Drunk Driving: the government soliciting anonymous phone calls to the police whereby you can report anyone to be a drunk driver who pisses you off  (see my earlier post, “How to Get Your ex-Spouse: The Anonymous Tip“). All such calls, we are assured in public service announcements, will be investigated — that is, your ex-wife will be pulled over and subjected to field sobriety tests.

So how is this new investigative tool working out?  Not so well, based upon reports from around the country such as the following:

“Drunk Busters” Hotline Got 280 Calls,

Leading to No Arrest

New Mexico. It has been around three weeks, but the DrunkBusters hotline hasn’t yet helped catch a single drunk driver.

State police said Friday evening that 280 people have called the hotline, 1-877-DWI-HALT, to report suspected drunk drivers. But all those calls have led to no arrests ‘ despite the fact that around 18,000 people were arrested for DWI in 2005, the state’s DWI Czar Rachel O’Connor said in December.

Funny, it worked finding witches in Salem….