Can Personal Breathalyzers Prevent Drunk Driving?

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

How many people would think twice about getting behind the wheel after having a few drinks knowing that they were above the legal limit? My guess is a lot. No longer must a person guess whether they are over or under the legal limit if they have their own personal breathalyzer.

So can a personal breathalyzer prevent a DUI? I don’t see why not.

Breathalyzers are so readily available nowadays that, in addition to the standard multiple-use breathalyzer, they have developed single-use disposable breathalyzers and breathalyzer apps for the smartphone.

As you can imagine, the range in the quality and price of personal breathalyzers is quite large. Costs will vary between $15 and several hundred dollars. Breathalyzers under $50, and those coming on key chains have questionable accuracy from the start and accuracy continues to decrease after multiple uses.

Unlike novelty breathalyzers, quality breathalyzers will be backed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the FDA conducts research to confirm that the breathalyzer does what its literature says it does.

Just because I believe that personal breathalyzers can prevent a DUI, it doesn’t mean that they are 100% accurate. Almost all quality breathalyzers, like those the police use, require calibration after repeated use to ensure accuracy. Some products allow for owners to calibrate themselves and some require that the breathalyzer be sent to the manufacturer for calibration. Heavily used and non-calibrated breathalyzers will likely not be accurate.

It is possible for a person’s blood alcohol content to continue to rise after a breathalyzer reading, especially if they’ve only recently stopped drinking. Therefore, it is also possible for a person to have a blood alcohol content of 0.07 when they leave the bar (and when they test themselves) and a 0.09 after they’ve been driving for a while. If that is the case, you can still be arrested and charged for a California DUI.

Lastly, a person does not necessarily need to be above a 0.08 blood alcohol content to be arrested and charged with a California DUI. A person can be arrested and charged with a California DUI if they are above a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or if they are “under the influence.” In other words, you can be a 0.07 percent, but if an officer determines that you cannot safely operate a vehicle as a sober person could, you can still be arrested and charged with a California DUI.  A breathalyzer may determine if you are under the legal limit, but it cannot determine whether you are “under the influence.”

Although I can’t imagine some DUI’s not being prevented with personal breathalyzers, the Colorado Department of Transportation wants to be sure. They are providing personal breathalyzers to people with prior DUI’s in certain counties.

Those who participate in the program have agreed to actually use the breathalyzer and complete a survey. At the end of the program and when the survey is completed, participants can keep the breathalyzer.

You can be sure that when the Colorado Department of Transportation releases the results of this experiment, you can be sure that I’ll update you with that information.  

 

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Texalyzer to Help Cops Crack Down on Distracted Driving

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

You heard me right. Not a breathalyzer, but a texalyzer. A new device has been developed that could help law enforcement determine whether a person was using a cell phone at the time a traffic collision occurred.

Just as a breathalyzer can help determine whether alcohol in a person’s system played a part in a traffic collision, the texalyzer can help law enforcement and prosecutors determine whether a driver’s texting possibly played a part in a traffic collision.

By connecting the phone via a cord to the device, law enforcement would be able to know what apps were open and in use with a time stamp.

Lawmakers in New York and several other cities are considering allowing law enforcement to use the device to crack down on texting while driving. It is currently illegal in California to “drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone.” This provision includes texting while driving.

Cellebrite is the company behind the device and has been working with Ben Lieberman of New Castle, N.Y. whose son was killed in a 2011 car crash.

The driver who collided with the car whom Lieberman’s son was a passenger originally told law enforcement that he had fall asleep behind the wheel which led his car veering into oncoming traffic.

Law enforcement could not check the driver’s phone to see if he was lying without a warrant.

"We often hear, ‘just get a warrant’ or ‘just get the phone records.’ … The implication is that the warrant is like filling out some minor form," said Leiberman. "It’s not. In New York, it involves a D.A. and a judge. Imagine getting a D.A. and a judge involved in every breathalyzer that’s administered, every sobriety test that’s administered."

Leiberman was able to eventually get the phone records through a civil lawsuit which showed that the driver had been texting before the collision.

Privacy advocate groups have concerns with the device which is still in development.

"Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender," says Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. "This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information — so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties."

The bill that Richardson is referring to is New York Senate Bill S2306 which provides for the field testing of mobile telephone and portable electronic device usage while driving after an accident or collision.

Recent studies have shown that distracted driving, like texting while driving, is just as dangerous a drunk driving.

A new study by the Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a leader in smartphone-centric telematics, is one such study.

Some of the study’s key findings included: Distracted driving occurred during 52 percent of trips that resulted in a crash; on drives that involved a crash, the average duration of distraction was 135 seconds; phone distraction lasts for two minutes or more on 20 percent of drives with distraction, and often occurs at high speeds; the worst 10 percent of distracted drivers are 2.3 times more likely to be in a crash than the average driver, and 5.8 times more likely than the best 10 percent of distracted drivers.

You can be sure we’ll be keeping our eyes and ears open for whether law enforcement usage of such a device gains any traction here in California.

 

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The DMV and License Suspension After a California DUI

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

When a person is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, their license is usually taken and the officers give the driver a “pink slip.” The pink slip is a temporary license which will allow them to drive…at least for 10 days.

The officer should inform the driver that they have 10 days to contact the DMV to schedule a hearing to try and save their driving privileges. However, in the confusion and anxiety of the DUI arrest, many people forget or ignore the instruction. The 10 days lapse and, much to the surprise of many of my clients, their license is suspended even though their court case hasn’t concluded or in some instances, hasn’t even begun.

A DUI of alcohol triggers two separate actions; a California DMV “administrative per se” (APS) action and a criminal court case.

After 10 days from the date of arrest, the DMV will automatically suspend a person’s license for four months unless the person or their attorney schedules a hearing with the DMV. If a hearing is scheduled within 10 days, the DMV will “stay” or postpone the suspension pending the outcome of the hearing.

The DMV hearing is to determine 1.) whether the officer had reasonable cause to believe the driver was driving under the influence, 2.) whether the driver was lawfully arrested, and 3.) whether the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

Once again, this process is separate and distinct from what happens in court.

If the driver or their attorney schedules a hearing with the DMV within the 10 days, and the suspension is “stayed,” the hearing itself presents an uphill battle. By “uphill,” I mean completely stacked against the driver.

Since the DMV is not a court, the standard of proof needed to suspend a person’s license is much lower than what is needed to convict a person or a crime. A prosecutor in a criminal case must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was either 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or “under the influence.” A DMV hearing officer must only prove more likely than not that the driver was either a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or that they refused the chemical test.

The DMV, the same agency which is trying to sustain the suspension, is the agency which conducts the hearing. The DMV hearing officer, who is a DMV employee, conducts the hearing. The hearing officer can object to the driver’s evidence. The hearing officer can rule on his own objection. Finally, the hearing officer decides if he or she wins. And they almost always do.

Hearsay statements, which are generally excluded from court cases because the person making the statement cannot be cross examined, are admissible in DMV hearings. Most of the time, arresting officers are absent from DMV hearings. If a driver wishes to cross examine the arresting officer who wrote the report, he or she must subpoena the officer at his own cost. This includes paying for the officer’s salary for the time that they attend the hearing.

The DMV hearing officer, who, like a judge, determines the outcome of the DMV hearing is merely a DMV employee with no background in law. In fact, according to the DMV’s employment eligibility requirements, a hearing officer does not even need to have a college degree.

Although unlikely, if the DMV hearing is won by the driver, they save their license from a four-month suspension, but they still face the criminal case in court.

I won’t go into what can happen in court for a California DUI case. Just read one of many previous posts on what to expect out of the court case.

If the driver pleads to a DUI or is convicted after a trial, the court will notify the DMV of the conviction triggering yet another suspension called a “mandatory action.” The mandatory action suspension is a six-month suspension, but the driver gets credit for any time spent on the four-month DMV-triggered suspension. In other words, the driver should serve no more than six months of a suspension.

This information is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It only applies to a first-time DUI without aggravating circumstances such as a chemical test refusal. Clearly, the complexity of not just the court case, but the DMV action as well, is yet another reason to let an experienced DUI defense attorney do the heavy lifting.

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Utah Lawmakers Vote to Lower State’s BAC Limit to 0.05

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Utah could soon have the lowest blood alcohol content limit in the country after the state’s lawmakers voted to lower the threshold for driving to 0.05 percent.

Currently in California, as well as the rest of the country, the legal blood alcohol limit that a person can have in their system is less than 0.08 percent.

In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) voted to recommend that states lower their blood alcohol limits to 0.05 percent and cited studies that have shown that impairment can occur with a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent. And now it seems as though Utah has taken up their recommendation.

The new law, which was sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, was advanced on the proposition that a lower blood alcohol content could lower incidences of drunk driving.

“The .08 sends a false message … it’s kind of a game — how much can I drink and still stay under the .08?" said Rep. Kelly Miles. “So this will benefit those because now the message is, ‘I shouldn’t drink anything and drive.’ This will send a message to the nation, but I think the message is ‘you are welcome to come here to Utah, you are welcome to drink, but then please make arrangements for a ride.”

Not all of Utah’s lawmakers were on board.

“I don’t think there’s enough data out there that would suggest that lowering the limit would reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities,” said Rep. Gage Froerer, noting that texting while driving and distracted driving resulted in more deaths than drunk driving. “No one can dispute the validity of not drinking and driving — that’s a given. But the question comes down to personal freedoms, rights and enforcement. Our efforts are better spent on education and informing the public.”

The change in law begs the question, “How many drinks does it take to get to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent?”

The California DMV provides very general chart of for guidance on how many drinks it takes to get to certain blood alcohol contents. I emphasize that the chart is only for guidance. A number of factors will affect how many drinks will get a person to 0.8 and 0.05.

A 160-pound male who has two drinks in an hour will have a blood alcohol content around 0.07 to 0.08 percent. One drink will put the same 160-pound male between 0.04 and 0.05 percent.

A 140-pound female who has two drinks in an hour will have a blood alcohol content around 0.09 percent. One drink will put the same 140-pound female around 0.05 percent.

Across the chart, the difference between getting a DUI in Utah, if the law is passed, and the rest of the country including California is about one drink in an hour. And no, it does not matter what type of drink it is. 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, 12 ounces of 5% beer, and 5 ounces of 12% wine all have about the same amount of alcohol and all count as one drink. 

If Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, signs the bill, the new law would take effect on December 20, 2018. Just in time for the New Year’s celebrations.

 

 

 

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California Lawmakers Seek to Create Drugged Driving Task Force

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in California, lawmakers are pushing efforts to pass new legislation regarding marijuana, particularly when it comes driving after marijuana use. Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), who is no stranger to introducing anti-DUI laws in California, has introduced a bill that would create a drugged driving taskforce under the supervision of the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.

“The bill, AB-6, is a reasonable approach forward to address our fight against drugged driving,” Lackey told the Los Angeles Times. “The urgency of this should be very clear to all of us.”

The bill, which was proposed by the California Police Chiefs Association and introduced by Lackey, if approved, would add a completely new section to the current California Vehicle Code.

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest for the bill says the following:

“This bill would require the commissioner to appoint, and serve as the chair of, a drugged driving task force, with specified membership, to develop recommendations for best practices, protocols, proposed legislation, and other policies that will address the issue of driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription drugs. The bill would also require the task force to examine the use of technology, including field testing technologies, to identify drivers under the influence of drugs, and would authorize the task force to conduct pilot programs using those technologies. The bill would require the task force to report to the Legislature its policy recommendations and the steps that state agencies are taking regarding drugged driving.”

The task force would include representatives from local law enforcement, prosecutors, various representatives from the marijuana industry, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, representatives from the Office of Traffic Safety, representatives from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, and licensed physicians.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended the bill after a hearing in which Karen Smith, a teacher from Antelope Valley, provided emotional testimony about how her husband had been killed a driver who was under the influence of marijuana.

“He was just 56 years old. We had been married for 34 years,” said Smith. “It was all wiped out in just one second by a person who chose to drive under the influence of THC.”

There’s no question that marijuana affects driving ability. Exactly how and to what degree, is up for debate. What is certain however, is that there is a very important difference between being under the influence of marijuana and having THC in your system, and the task force, if AB-6 passes, had better understand the difference.

It is well known that the "per se" limit for how much alcohol can be in a person’s system is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. With alcohol, there is a fairly strong correlation between blood alcohol content and intoxication. In other words, there is a high probability that a person with a 0.08 blood alcohol content is feeling the effects of alcohol intoxication such that they cannot operate a vehicle as a reasonable and sober person would.

The same cannot be said about the intoxicating effects of marijuana use and the amount of THC in a person’s blood. Unlike alcohol, THC is fat soluble which means that it leaves the body at a much slower rate. In fact, chronic users of marijuana can have THC in their blood weeks after use. Therefore, someone who has smoked marijuana three weeks ago can still be arrested in states with a "per se" THC limit even though they are no longer under the influence of marijuana and perfectly sober.

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