Monthly Archives: August 2015

Is There a Breathalyzer in Your Car’s Future?

Do you think the dashboard in your new car is already filled with electronic gizmos?  You open the door, sit down and in front of you are a dazzling array of dials, buttons, analog and digital displays, screens, backup camera, audio options, ignition, Bluetooth, climate controls, ad nauseum.   

How about adding a breathalyzer to that dashboard?

Sen. Chuck Schumer Pushes High-Tech Solution to Drunk Driving

Wash, D.C.  Aug. 7 – Sen. Chuck Schumer is racing to install new technology in cars that could put a stop to drunk driving, saving up to 7,000 lives per year.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety — revealed last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — uses touch- and breath-based systems to detect if a driver has had too many drinks. If the systems detect that the driver’s blood alcohol level is above the legal limit, the car shuts down.

The high-tech solution has been in the works since 2008 through a partnership between the NHTSA and Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, but it won’t hit production for several years, researchers say. To speed up the process, Schumer is co-sponsoring a bill that would funnel $48 million in federal funding to the project over six years…

Presumably, these dashboard breathalyzers will not be options, but will be required by federal or state law — either as mandatory equipment on new cars, or as required additions to used cars.  This would probably be required by federal law or, as with the .08% blood-alcohol laws, by state laws passed under threat of withholding federal highway funds.

Sounds like a great idea, right? But what is never mentioned about these devices are the drawbacks:

      * Accuracy.  As with breathalyzers used in police stations, these machines have to be constantly calibrated

      * Reliability.  Police breathalyzers are in police stations; how reliable and accurate will one be subjected to bumpy roads and high-speed driving?

      * Fraud.  What’s to stop a driver from having his passenger or anyone else breath into the device?

      * Emergency situations.  What if there is a sudden emergency requiring immediate driving?

      * Maintenance.  How often, where and at what cost must the machines be maintained or repaired? 

      * Safety.  What happens if the breathalyzer malfunctions and shuts down the vehicle — on a freeway at 65 mph?

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in the past, law enforcement breath-testing machines — even when maintained, calibrated and operated correctly — are inaccurate and unreliable.  See, for example, Breathalyzer Accuracy.      How accurate and reliable will a much smaller and cheaper version be that is mounted in a car driven for hours at varying speeds and road conditions?  


Boyfriend and Girlfriend Busted for DUI One Hour Apart

An hour is not enough time to sober up, at least not for Christopher McFarlane.

 McFarland was the passenger in his girlfriend’s car when she was pulled over after California Highway Patrol officers spotted her vehicle swerving in Santa Rosa, California. Anna Arthur was arrested for driving under the influence and McFarlane was, himself, too drunk to drive Arthur’s Honda home. McFarlane walked to Arthur’s house.

This guy wasn’t falling-down drunk, but was definitely over 0.08” percent, the legal limit for driving, said CHP officer Jonathan Sloat.

About an hour later and shortly after Arthur was booked into Sonoma County Jail, officers spotted a McFarlane driving a Jetta. McFarlane told officers that he was on his way to the jail to bail out Arthur.

McFarlane, apparently, had not yet sobered up because, according to Sloat, “The officers still noticed signs of intoxication, and McFarlane failed field sobriety tests.”

It was also determined that McFarlane was on probation and his license was suspended for a DUI conviction last year. As a result, not only was McFarlane booked on suspicion of a California DUI, he was also booked for violation of probation and driving on a suspended license.

McFarlane is going to need more than love to get him out of this jam. He’ll need a California DUI attorney. At least if both he and Arthur are convicted, they might be able to do their DUI classes together. 


Are MADD Awards to Officers for DUI Arrests Warranted?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the hyper-aggressive group that advocates for tougher laws on drunk driving, regularly awards local officers for the high number of DUI arrests they make in a given year. In fact just last month, several such awards were given in several California counties.

To be eligible for the MADD award, officers must arrest a minimum of 25 drunk drivers within a one year period.

“Officers Corey Baker and Kevin VanFleet were among several police officers from Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties who received the MADD Award,” said the Simi Valley Acorn. “Baker detected impairment in 82 drivers in 2014, and VanFleet made 36 arrests.”

According to The Californian, Monterey California Highway Patrol Officer Peter Avila was given the award for making 66 DUI arrests in 2014. This was more than any other CHP officer in the Monterey area in 2014.

To many, this seems like a good thing; awarding those who take drunk drivers off of the road. But the flaw in this is that just because a person was arrested does not necessarily mean that they are driving drunk.

So are these awards warranted?

An arrest means nothing without a conviction. Remember, we are all innocent until proven guilty. This necessarily means that a person was not driving drunk if and until they are proven to be driving drunk with a conviction.

As a DUI defense attorney, I can tell you first hand that many DUI arrests do not end up as DUI convictions.

Officers pretty regularly arrest people for DUI when there is not enough evidence for a conviction, sometimes when there is not even enough evidence for an arrest. Why might they do this? I hate to say it, but it’s because they can.

Take for example a recent case I had. My client was pulled over for speeding. What led the officer to believe that my client was possible DUI, I’ll never know. But my client was asked to perform field sobriety tests anyways. My client, of course, “failed” the field sobriety tests even though his blood alcohol content was determined to be 0.04 percent and well below the legal limit.

Although my client was arrested for a California DUI, he was not drunk. Fortunately, the prosecutor agreed and declined to file charges, but not before my client spent the night in jail and spent the money to hire me to represent him.

My client was not driving under the influence, yet his arresting officer received one arrest credit towards MADD’s award.

Do these awards incentivize officers to make illegal DUI arrests? I doubt it. Personally, I think officers would make such arrests whether the awards were given or not.

But, if you ask me, we’re rewarding the wrong action by the officer because many (and I mean many) DUI arrests are illegal arrests and many do not result in convictions. Not all people who are arrested for drunk driving are actually driving drunk.