Monthly Archives: April 2009

Reaction to CEO of MADD Heading Federal Agency

I posted a few days ago about the recent appointment of Chuck Hurley, the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  See Ex-CEO of MADD to Set Vehicle Safety Standards.  One inevitable consequence:  You can expect ignition interlock devices (mini-breathalyzers) installed as standard equipment in all vehicles in the near future.  See New MADD Goal: All Cars Equipped With Breathalyzers.

It seems others are also less than enthusiastic about the appointment.  The following editorial appeared in the Washington Times:

Editorial: MADD About Regulation

Wash., DC.  April 24  – President Obama’s pick to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration raises a few red flags. If confirmed by the Senate, Chuck Hurley, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will drive motorists over the cliff with regulation.

The nation’s traffic-safety czar has broad powers to control the roads and road-going habits of Americans. Mr. Hurley has a history of pushing laws that harass millions of law-abiding citizens to ensnare a few lawbreakers. He supports returning the 55 mph speed limit to our highways as well as roadblocks and random pullovers to make sure drivers aren’t doing anything wrong. This methodology is based on a presumption of guilt – not innocence – of the average driver who is doing nothing wrong.

Mr. Hurley has promoted a mania of overregulation at MADD. Absent from his advocacies is the principle that a punishment should fit the crime, or that a crime even needs to be committed to incur a penalty. Under this influence, MADD has been lobbying to lower the allowable blood-alcohol content (BAC) for drivers to .04 – which means one glass of Pinot can land anyone behind bars. We do not condone drinking and driving, but the constant lowering of BAC limits has separated what is punishable from what is actually dangerous.

As a result of MADD-fueled binges for tougher laws, extreme drunken driving punishments – such as loss of driving privileges, jail time, fines and legal fees beyond $10,000 – often apply to individuals who were not drunk and in some cases were not even driving. Last month, the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously upheld a driving-under-the-influence conviction against a man who was sleeping off his bender in his car even though the keys were not in the ignition. In 2005, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a DUI sentence for a tipsy man riding a motorized skateboard. The Georgia State Police charged a woman with drunken driving for riding a horse.

Such absurd cases will continue to proliferate as long as the breathalyzer machine is the sole determinant of guilt rather than evidence of unsafe conduct. Machines are prone to error, and basing guilt on a digital reading leaves little room for the specific facts of an individual situation…

The position of NHTSA chief requires an administrator of sound judgment, not a zealot beholden to special interests. Mr. Hurley’s associations and background raise the specter that he could use NHTSA regulations and safety grants to benefit his friends and coerce states into adopting his overbearing pet policies. Mr. Hurley should be offered one (but only one) for the road and sent on his way.

(Thanks to Jeanne Pruett)

Does Marijuana Affect Driving Ability?

It is against the law to drive while under the influence of marijuana. It has always been assumed that cannabis, like alcohol, impairs the perception, coordination, reflexes and judgment necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle. And, of course, there have been governmental studies addressing the question: Does marijuana impair driving?

Interestingly, however, the findings do not necessarily support popular opinion….

On the one hand, the California Department of Justice has found that marijuana undoubtedly impairs psychomotor abilities that are functionally related to driving and that driving skills may be impaired, particularly at high-dose levels or among inexperienced users. "Marijuana and Alcohol: A Driver Performance Study", California Office of Traffic Safety Project No. 087902 (Sept. 1986).

Contradicting these conclusions, however, are two federal studies. The U.S. Department of Transportation conducted research with a fully interactive simulator on the effects of alcohol and marijuana, alone and in combination, on driver-controlled behavior and performance. Although alcohol was found consistently and significantly to cause impairment, marijuana had only an occasional effect. Also, there was little evidence of interaction between alcohol and marijuana. Accidents and speeding tickets reliably increased with alcohol, but no marijuana or combined alcohol-marijuana effects were noted. "The Effects of Alcohol on Driver-Controlled Behavior in a Driving Simulator, Phase I", DOT-HS-806-414.

A more recent report entitled "Marijuana and Actual Performance", DOT-HS-808-078, noted that "THC is not a profoundly impairing drug….It apparently affects controlled information processing in a variety of laboratory tests, but not to the extent which is beyond the individual’s ability to control when he is motivated and permitted to do so in driving". The study concluded that:

An important practical objective of this study was to determine whether degrees of driving impairment can be actually predicted from either measured concentration of THC in plasma or performance measured in potential roadside "sobriety" tests of tracking ability or hand and posture stability. The results, like many reported before, indicated that none of these measures accurately predicts changes in actual performance under the influence of THC…

The researchers found that it "appears not possible to conclude anything about a driver’s impairment on the basis of his/her plasma concentrations of THC and THC-COOH determined in a single sample".

Note: "THC" stands for Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. THC is fairly quickly converted by the body into inert metabolites, which can stay in the body for hours or even days. It is these metabolites that police blood tests in DUI arrests detect and measure. In other words, (1) marijuana may not impair driving ability at all, and (2) the blood "evidence" only measures an inactive substance which may have been there for days. thc & marijuana detox

Ex-CEO of MADD to Set Vehicle Safety Standards

I commented a few days ago that Chuck Hurley, the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, had been appointed to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — the federal agency that, among other things, sets safety standards for auto manufacturers.  See  Ignition Interlocks Coming – as Standard Equipment.  And MADD’s latest gimmick they claim will “literally wipe out drunk driving in the United States“ is installation of ignition interlock devices – eventually in every car sold in the U.S.  See New MADD Goal: All Cars Equipped with Breathalyzers.  

So what do you think Mr. Hurley’s first order of business is going to be at NHTSA?

The following is an editorial that appeared yesterday:

Former MADD Chief Will Steer NHTSA Wrong

Detroit, MI.  Apr. 17 –The nomination of anti-drinking activist Charles Hurley as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an ominous development for both motorists and auto makers.

Hurley, CEO of the public nuisance group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), may well be the most zealous enemy of individual liberty and the free-market at NHTSA since Joan Claybrook ruled during the Carter Administration….

And drivers can expect a ratcheting up of the low-grade harassment they already endure on a daily basis — in the form of more obnoxious regulations, pullover “safety” checks and very possibly lowered speed limits, ala Claybrook’s 55-mph national limit on federal interstates.

All of this will be imposed on states in the time-honored Washington way: Those that fail to comply will lose vitally needed highway funds.

As the head gauleiter of MADD since March 2005, Hurley the led the group — already considered one of the most unreasonable and totalitarian-minded “special interests” in all of D.C. to even new vistas of reactionary Puritanism.

MADD was started by Candy Lightner, a Fair Oaks, California mother in 1980, after her daughter was killed by a drunken speeder in their quiet suburban neighborhood.

Its original mission — a public campaign to make driving drunk unacceptable — has morphed into a crusade against any consumption of alcohol whatsoever.

The legal standard for “drunk” driving has already been lowered to .08 BAC — a level well below the .10 and up level at which people have actual accidents as opposed to running afoul of “sobriety checkpoints.”

But even that isn’t enough. Under Hurley, MADD has been pushing to have the legal threshold reduced to .04 BAC, which would turn anyone who had a glass of wine over dinner into a “drunk driver” as far as the law was concerned — and subject them to penalties more severe than those applied to many violent felons.

As NHTSA head, expect him to push MADD’s current agenda as far as he can —including mandatory in-car alcohol detectors for everyone, not just those already convicted of DWI. And controversial “sobriety checkpoints” that stop random cars and subject their drivers to Gestapo-like stop and frisks are likely to sprout up in irban and suburban areas across the country…

Expect more DUI roadblocks — and get used to taking a breathalyzer test every time you want to start your car.

Who Will Guard the Guardians? Alcohol Problem

In today’s “Physician, heal thyself” department, a look at drunk gun-toting cops:

Alcohol a Growing Problem in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Report Says

Liquor-related arrests of department employees have nearly tripled since 2004, watchdog agency finds. Baca and unions are at odds on new policy barring drunk deputies from carrying guns.
Los Angeles, CA.  Apr. 16 – There has been a dramatic upswing in the number of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested for alcohol-related offenses in recent years, suggesting a growing drinking problem within the department, a county watchdog agency reported Wednesday.

Last year, 70 sworn and civilian employees of the Sheriff’s Department were arrested. The majority of those arrests involved employees driving off-duty while under the influence of alcohol, according to an annual report produced by the county Office of Independent Review. In many cases, drunk deputies were carrying firearms at the time of their arrests…
Sheriff Lee Baca sought to implement one of the nation’s toughest policies barring deputies from carrying firearms while under the influence of alcohol. The unions have opposed the policy, saying that it would endanger deputies. The matter is now with the county’s employee relations commission.

Baca acknowledged Wednesday that the number of alcohol-related arrests indicated that some deputies have a drinking problem.

“This is a personal failure that has public consequences,” Baca said. “I don’t know how they can look anyone from Mothers Against Drunk Driving in the face.”
Barring drunk cops from carrying guns would endanger their safety?  And if 70 deputies were arrested, I wonder how many more were given “professional courtesy” from fellow cops?

New Bill Presumes Innocence in DUI Cases…Expected to Fail

I've posted ad nauseum about the disappearance of our Constitutional rights in drunk driving cases.  See The DUI Exception to the Constitution.  One of the more notable examples is the disappearance of the presumption of innocence.  See  Whatever Happened to the Presumption of Innocence?.  Typical of this is the automatic license confiscation and suspension by the arresting officer.  See Due Process and Automatic License Suspensions.

What if they tried to pass a law reinstating this Constitutional right?

Bill Would Presume Innocence in Drunk Driving Cases

Park Rapids, MN.  Apr. 11 – Many states suspend constitutional presumptions of innocence when it comes to drunken driving arrests.  Minnesota is no different.

If you are arrested for DWI in Minnesota, your license can be suspended or revoked within days of your arrest, even before you go to court on the actual criminal charges…

The intent is to crack down on drunken drivers immediately and get them off the state’s highways.

 A bill currently working its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives seeks to restore due process and a presumption of innocence to drivers arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. It would mandate a conviction on the criminal charges before the driver could lose his or her license. Currently, that process typically begins within seven days of the initial arrest…

The defense bar maintains Breathalyzer equipment has repeatedly been found to give false or inaccurate readings, and those are the types of issues drivers should be able to challenge in a court trial. Meanwhile, they’re already lost their privilege to drive…

The House bill, with a companion Senate bill, stands little chance of passing, opponents and political observers say.

Innocent until proven guilty?  Sounds subversive.  MADD would never approve…