Archive for June, 2008

MADD’s Latest Weapon: Update

Friday, June 13th, 2008

My post last week concerning a California High School's efforts with MADD to traumatize their students, drew quite a reaction from readers.  The following is an update:

School Defends Drunken Driving Hoax

Oceanside, CA.  AP, June 12 (article originally published by KGAN-TV CBS 2 Iowa) – School officials in Oceanside, California, are defending a scared-straight exercise that sent some El Camino High School students into hysterics.

One Monday last month, California Highway Patrol officers went to 20 classrooms and delivered the grim news that several students had been killed in drunken-driving car crashes over the weekend.

The news devastated Michelle de Gracia, who says she was nauseated and too stunned to cry. Others in her physics class were so upset that the teacher had to tell them it was all staged. Then they became angry. Michelle says says "they got the shock they wanted."

A 15-year-old student says, while she feels "betrayed" by her teachers and school administrators, she also feels that "if it saves one life, it's worth it." Others disagree. During assemblies after the hoax, some students held up posters reading "Death is real. Don't play with our emotions."

Camino High guidance counselor Lori Tauber says "we wanted them to be traumatized."

"We wanted them to be traumatized."  One wonders where the MADDness is going next….


The Hidden Danger of “One for the Road”

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

In previous posts, I’ve explained many of the reasons why breathalyzers are inaccurate and unreliable. See, for example, “Breathalyzers — and Why They Don’t Work“; ”Warning: Breathalyzer in Use“; ”Convicting the ‘Average’ DUI Suspect“; “Why Breathalyzers Don’t Measure Alcohol“; “Driving Under the Influence of… Gasoline?; ”How to Fool the Breathalyzer“. (These and many other sources of error are explained more fully in Chapter 6 of my book, Drunk Driving Defense, 6th edition.)

One of the most common sources of error in breath alcohol analysis is simply testing the subject too early — while his or her body is still absorbing the alcohol.

Let’s take a common example. At a restaurant Sarah shares a bottle of wine with a friend. She nurses one glass over a one-hour dinner. Nearing the end, another glass is poured from the bottle and she finishes this. The two friends then order an after-dinner drink. Noting the time, Sarah quickly finishes the drink and leaves. She is stopped by the police one block from the restaurant. After questioning and field sobriety tests, she is taken to a police station and tested on a breathalyzer. The machine shows her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be .09% — over the legal limit. She is booked for DUI and jailed.

Sarah’s true BAC, however, was lower, perhaps much lower. If a blood sample had been taken instead of a breath test, the results would have shown only .05% — well under the legal limit.

Absorption of alcohol continues for anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours after drinking or even longer. Peak absorption normally occurs within an hour; this can range from as little as 15 minutes to as much as two-and-a-half hours. The presence of food in the stomach can delay this to as much as four hours, with two hours being common.

During this absorptive phase, the distribution of alcohol throughout the body is not uniform; uniformity of distribution — called equilibrium – will not occur until absoprtion is complete. In other words, some parts of the body will have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than others. One aspect of this non-uniformity is that the BAC in arterial blood will be higher than in veinous blood (laws generally require blood samples to be veinous). During peak absorption arterial BAC can be as much as 60 percent higher than veinous.

This becomes very relevant to breath alcohol analysis because the alveolar sacs in the lungs are bathed by arterial blood, not veinous: The diffusion of alcohol through the sacs and into the lung air will reflect the BAC of the body’s arterial blood. Therefore, the breath sample obtained by the machine will be reflective of pulmonary BAC — which, during absorption, will be considerably higher than veinous BAC (and higher than the BAC in other parts of the body).

After extensive research, one of the most noted experts in the field of blood alcohol analysis has concluded:

Breath testing is not a reliable means of estimating a subject’s blood alcohol concentration during absorption…..

There is a significant likelihood that a given subject will be in the absorptive state when tested under field conditons. Because of large differences in arterial BAC and veinous BAC during absorption, breath test results consistently overestimate the result that would be obtained from a blood test — by as much as 100% or more. In order to have some idea of the reliability of a given breath test result, it is essential to determine by some objective means whether the subject is in the absorptive or post-absorptive state. In the absence of such information, an appropriate value for the uncertainty associated with the absorptive state should be applied to all breath test results.

Simpson, “Accuracy and Precision of Breath Alcohol Measurements for Subjects in the Absorptive State”, 33(6) Clinical Chemistry 753 (1987).

The most recognized expert in the field, Professor Kurt Dubowski of the University of Oklahoma, agrees with Simpson: “When a blood test is allowed, an administered breath test is discriminatory, because in law enforcement practice the status of absorption is always uncertain.”


MADD’s Latest Weapon

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

So where is MADD going with their “War on Drunk Driving”?

El Camino Teens Face Heavy Emotions Brought

About by Drunken-Driving Dramatization

Oceanside, CA.  May 30 – It was an elaborate hoax, but 36 students at El Camino High pulled it off with potentially life-saving consequences.

The result was a soberingly realistic dramatization about the dangers of drinking and driving, delivered with surprising professionalism.

Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics – May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.

The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student’s seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour.

The program, titled “Every 15 Minutes,” was designed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its title refers to the frequency in which a person somewhere in the country dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident.

About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died…

Though the deception left some teens temporarily confused and angry, “If it makes even one student think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, it is worth the price”, said California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury, who orchestrates the program at local high schools.

“I want them to be an emotional wreck. I don’t want them to have to live through this for real.”

The laws of every state in this country include a right to sue for the tort of “intentional infliction of emotional distress”.  Are MADD and the California Highway Patrol immune?  Or is this another example of the “DUI Exception”?

(Thanks to John Kruzelock.)