Monthly Archives: August 2009
I have mentioned that a primary problem with blood alcohol analysis is that no two individuals are alike in their physiology and metabolism of alcohol (see, for example, Convicting the Average Person, Racial Differences in the Metabolism of Alcohol and High Blood Alcohol - or a Zinc Deficiency?. Further, many foreign compounds can influence attempts to measure blood alcohol levels (see, for example, Under the Influence of Gasoline?, Asthma Inhalers Can Cause High Breathalyzer Results and Driving Under the Influence of Paint?.
One of many other factors that render attempts to estimate an individual’s blood alcohol concentration at a given point in time is smoking.
A scientific study has found that cigarette smoking can influence absorption by the body of alcohol and thus, among other things, attempts to estimate earlier blood alcohol levels when driving based upon tested levels. Johnson et al., Cigarette Smoking and Rate of Gastric Emptying: Effect on Alcohol Absorption, 302 British Medical Journal 20 (1991).
The researchers reported testing blood samples of a group of smokers for blood alcohol levels both after smoking and after prolonged abstinence. The result was that ”areas under the venous blood alcohol concentration-time curves between zero and 30 minutes and 60 minutes and the peak blood alcohol concentrations were significantly less during the smoking period compared with the non-smoking period.” (Emphasis added) Gastric emptying was also found to be slower during the smoking evaluation.
The scientists concluded that the effect of smoking on alcohol absorption has “considerable social and medicolegal relevance”, and that the ingestion of nicotine should be taken into when dealing with alcohol metabolism.
Non-specific analysis is another problem causing breath machines to give false readings when the subject is a smoker. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Why Breathalyzers Don’t Measure Alcohol, breath machines are actually designed to report the presence of any compound containing the methyl group in its molecular structure, not just alcohol. They cannot distinguish the difference between alcohol and, say, acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde? That’s a compound produced in the liver in small amounts as a by-product in the metabolism of alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol moving from the blood into the lungs has been found to metabolize there as well – and, thus, to produce acetaldehyde there. The amount of acetaldehyde produced in the lungs varies from person to person. However, scientists have found one interesting fact: acetaldehyde concentrations in the lungs of smokers are greater than for non-smokers – far greater. Translated: smokers are more likely to have falsely high readings on a Breathalyzer. Origin of Breath Acetaldehyde During Ethanol Oxidation: Effect of Long-Term Cigarette Smoking, 100 Journal of Laboratory Clinical Medicine 908.
End result: because breathalyzers can’t tell the difference between alcohol and acetaldehyde, a higher blood-alcohol reading. And if you are a smoker, a much higher reading.
A rash of recent studies confirm that DWT (driving while texting) is more dangerous than DUI. For that matter, so is driving while talking on a cell phone. See, for example, my previous posts Inebriated or Texting: Which is More Dangerous While Driving? and Feds Crack Down on DUI…and Cover Up DWT.
Presumably, the punishment for DWT reflects the greater danger, right?
Wrong. Think $50 fine. In fact, in most states DWT isn’t even a crime.
Real Penalties Would Deter Cell Use and Texting While Driving
Los Angeles, CA. – There are some 270 million cell phones in the U.S. at the moment (out of a population of some 307 million people). Of those who drive, nearly 50 percent say that it’s dangerous to use cell phones or similar devices while driving. However, 80 percent of drivers told researchers they’ve talked on their cell phone while driving, and nearly one in five said they had read or typed text messages while driving. Perhaps they think it’s only dangerous for the other guy…
Every state has laws – and severe penalties – for driving while drunk, yet only five ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Fourteen states, including California, ban texting while driving, and it’s a miracle that those states have texting laws at all. Cell phone companies, with the exception of Verizon, pay lip service to the dangers of driving while talking and texting, but their lobbyists know which buttons to push when laws are introduced.
Then there is the matter of enforcement and fines, which tend to be lax and symbolic, at best. In California, where the use of hand-held phones and texting have only recently been outlawed, the fine for a first offense is $20; for the second offense it’s $50. Even though court costs can triple those fines, that’s not a deterrent. Not when a driver who runs a red light and gets his picture taken by a red light camera can pay fines of $500 and more and acquire a point on his DMV record. Drivers who text don’t get a point, and most don’t get the point.
So what’s the difference between DUI and DWT? In a word: alcohol. Prohibitionist groups like MADD don’t like alcohol. Add alcohol to the dangerous driving and the punishment jumps from a $50 fine to jail time, license suspensions, $1500 fines, long DUI schools, ignition interlock devices, probation and more. And that doesn’t include attorneys’ fees, increased car insurance for years, and the possible loss of job, professional licensing or security clearances. And then there’s the criminal record….
Ever wonder why MADD constantly touts the traffic fatality figures for DUI — but remains silent on the figures for DWT…and still hasn’t taken a stand against driving while talking or texting?
Maybe MADD’s "War on Drunk Driving" has gotten a little out of control. From yesterday’s Los Angeles Times:
Bounty Hunter Shoots Man in Sun Valley
Sun Valley, CA. Aug. 3 –Three bounty hunters were involved in a shooting after they tried to arrest a suspect in Sun Valley who was wanted in connection with a misdemeanor DUI arrest, police said.
The shooting occurred at 9:57 p.m. in the 8200 block of Marmay Place, said Officer Karen Rayner of the Los Angeles Police Department. She said the man was shot once in the left thigh and did not appear to be seriously wounded.
The bounty hunters, armed with guns, arrived at the home near the 5 Freeway to arrest the man. He apparently grabbed one of the guns during the scuffle, Rayner said.
"The bounty hunter had his weapon taken away, and his partner fired a least one shot at the suspect," Rayner said.
Officers were at the scene investigating. The body hunters and suspects were not identified.
It’s interesting that Mothers Against Drunk Driving has taken no position against texting or talking on a cell phone while driving — practices which have repeatedly been proven more dangerous than drunk driving. See, for example, Inebriated or Texting: Which is More Dangerous?. If anyone still questions MADD’s underlying agenda….
MADD, Industry Clash Over Beer Summit
Politico.com. Aug 3 –President Barack Obama’s beer summit may have made peace among its participants, but the event seems to have inflamed a long-simmering fight between Mothers Against Drunk Driviing and the alcoholic beverage industry.
"MADD is no longer an organization that opposes drunk driving, but an anti-alcohol group that has been hijacked by the modern day temperance movement,” Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute said in a statement emailed to reporters. “That someone in a position of leadership at MADD would criticize President Obama for simply drinking beer, illustrates the neoprohibitionist mentality that now dominates the group. … MADD’s position on the ‘Beer Summit’ should remind Americans that the group once dedicated to preventing drunk driving has transitioned into leading the anti-alcohol movement."
The beverage industry’s wrath was triggered by comments the head of MADD’s Delaware chapter made last Friday, commenting on Obama gathering Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley to chat about issues raised by Crowley’s arrest of Gates at his home earlier in the month.
"It’s a well known fact that young people tend to mimic the actions of the adults,” Nancy Raynor of MADD told WDEL-AM of Wilmington, Del., according to audio posted on the station’s website. The station summarized Raynor’s comments as suggesting that convening the men over beer "could be a bad influence."…
More idiocy from the "War on Drunk Driving" front…
Charges Dropped in "DUI On Horse" Case
Dalton, CA. Aug. 1 (article originally published by News Channel 9) –Two men charged in for driving under the influence on a horse have had their charges dropped…
District Attorney Kermit McManus told the Citizen that it came down to distinctions in the case–between a vehicle and a horse. McManus said a horse "did not meet the definition of a vehicle."
Duh…..Lucky we have razor-sharp legal minds in the D.A.'s office to second-guess the boys in blue.
(Think this is a fluke? See my my past posts, DUI on a Horse?, DUI on a Horse, Drunk Riding and New Law: A Horse is not a Vehicle.)