Does Uber Really Reduce Drunk Driving?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Logic tells us that with the increased use of ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber that there would a lower number of drunk driving arrests. I’ve been saying it since they’ve become available: If you’re too drunk, don’t drive. Take alternative means of transportation like Lyft and Uber. And it seems like people have been.

In 2015 Uber collaborated with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to commission a study on the impact of Uber on drunk driving. The study found that DUI arrests and accidents fell significantly in areas where Uber was available.

“In California, Uber’s home state and largest market, drunk-driving crashes fell by 60 per month among drivers under 30 in the markets where Uber operates following the launch of uberX,” the study authors stated. “That’s an estimated total of 1,800 crashes prevented since July 2012.”

Last month, however, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that contradicted Uber and MADD’s initial claims.

The study compared DUI related deaths on weekends and holidays in U.S. counties before the introduction of ride-sharing apps and after. Researchers from the University of Southern California and Oxford University focused on statistics from the 100 most populated metropolitan cities in the U.S.

The study concluded that there was no significant reduction in drunk driving deaths before and after the introduction of Uber and other ride-sharing apps.

“We found that the deployment of Uber services in a given metropolitan county had no association with the number of subsequent traffic fatalities, whether measured in aggregate or specific to drunk-driving fatalities or fatalities during weekends and holidays,” wrote the researchers. Study co-author David Kirk told the Washington Post the report indicates “there’s still tons of room for improvement when it comes to reducing drunk driving fatalities.”

The authors speculated on the reasons behind their findings:

“The average inebriated individual contemplating drunk driving may not be sufficiently rational to substitute drinking and driving for a presumably safer Uber ride,” said the study’s authors. “[I]t is also possible that many drunk drivers rationally conclude that it is too costly to pay for an Uber ride (or taxi) given that the likelihood of getting arrested for drinking and driving is actually quite low.”

Uber spokesperson, Brooke Anderson, responded to the recent study in an email to the Washington Post:

“We’re glad Uber can provide an alternative to drunk driving and help people make more responsible choices. Our ridership numbers show that trips peak at times when people are more likely to be out drinking and 80% of riders says that Uber has helped them personally avoid drinking and driving.”

Whether the research points to a reduction in DUI-related fatalities or not, one thing remains sure. Taking an Uber or other ride-sharing app is always a better option than driving drunk.

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Kansas Supreme Court Rules Chemical Test Refusal Not Criminal

Monday, February 29th, 2016

This past Friday the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to criminalize a chemical test refusal following a DUI arrest in that state.

Prior to the ruling, refusing a chemical test could land a person a misdemeanor or a felony charge depending on how many times they had refused in the past.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruling comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s announcement that they’ll decide the same issue for a Minnesota law which also made it a crime to refuse a chemical test after a DUI arrest. Let’s hope that the United States Supreme Court takes a page from the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling when the time comes.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s 6-1 decision found that chemical tests are essentially searches and, as such, it was unconstitutional to punish someone for exercising their constitutional right to refuse that search without a warrant.

“Once a suspect withdraws consent, whether it be express consent or implied (under the statute), a search based on that consent cannot proceed,” the court held.

A common argument in favor of implied consent laws articulated in numerous previous court decisions was that a state’s compelling interest in combating drunk driving outweighed the “relatively minor” infringement on our 4th amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Kansas Supreme Court, however, held exactly the opposite.

I agree. If the 4th Amendment doesn’t protect searches of our bodies, what does it protect?

Not surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving disagrees. “Obviously MADD’s position is that driving is a privilege and not a right,” said Christopher Mann, former police officer and member of the national board of directors for MADD. “We support penalties for refusing to take chemical tests. We think law enforcement members need to have all the tools at their disposal to keep our roads safe from drunken drivers who kill about 10,000 people a year.”

I too agree that we need to keep our roads safe from drunk drivers, but not at the expense of our constitutional rights.

California too has an implied consent law requiring that drivers who have been lawfully arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence submit to a chemical test. Although California does not make it a separate criminal offense to refuse a chemical test like Kansas or Minnesota, it does allow prosecutors to allege a “refusal enhancement” to the criminal DUI charge.

If a person is found to have refused a chemical test in California, they face a one-year license suspension through the DMV, additional jail time, a longer DUI program, a MADD Victim Impact Panel lecture, and/or a hospital and morgue program.

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Can Alcohol Sensors in All Cars Eliminate Drunk Driving?

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Last week federal officials said that new technology which could be installed in all new cars in the next five years could eliminate drunk driving.

The new technology, however, isn’t doing anything we’re not already doing: preventing a vehicle from being started by someone who has a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. What is different is the method by which this is being accomplished.

Passive breath sensors or touch-sensitive contact points on a starter button or gear shift would immediately register the blood alcohol content of a driver. Unlike the ignition interlock devices, which require a driver to blow into a tube to provide a breath sample and start a car, drivers of vehicles with the new technology need not do anything for a BAC level to be detected.

“The message today is not ‘Can we do this?’ but ‘How soon can we do this?’ ” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “It is a huge step forward.”

Although cost estimates of the new technology have not yet been made, officials anticipate the costs, once the sensors go into general production, to be comparable to the cost of seat belts or air bags; about $150-$200 per vehicle.

Unlike other safety features like backup cameras, which the NHTSA made mandatory beginning in 2014, the new alcohol detection technology would not be required by automakers. Instead, the technology would be offered as an upgrade to new vehicles.

“These devices have to be quick, accurate and easy to use for the automakers to put them on their platforms,” said Bud Zaouk who runs the laboratory where the technology is being developed.

Developers are still working on refining the technology to ensure accuracy. Their goal is also to allow the technology to produce blood alcohol readings in less than a second and to work for at least 10 years or 157,000 miles without calibration or maintenance.

Not surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has expressed its support for the new technology. Colleen Sheehey-Church, president of MADD, addressed an audience at NHTSA.

“This is the future,” she said, gesturing toward a vehicle equipped with prototype detection gear, “when drunk drivers will be unable to drive their cars. If this technology was available in 2004, my son, Dustin, might be alive today.”

Sheehey-Church’s son died in the back seat of a car when the driver  who was drunk drove into a river in 2004.

In all that I’ve heard and read about the new technology, the NHTSA has yet to address some glaring problems.

Unlike an ignition interlock device, which is intended to only detect the blood alcohol content of the driver, the passive alcohol detection devices will be detecting alcohol located in the air of the vehicle whether it’s coming from the driver’s seat, passenger’s seat, or even the back seats.

If such is the case, what’s the point of having a designated driver? In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg of questions yet to be addressed.

Will the technology detect alcohol coming from something other than a drunk driver such as mouthwash, perfumes, or hand sanitizer? Will bartenders have to shower and change clothes before heading home after a shift? Will the technology work with open windows? What about convertibles or motorcycles?

If you ask me, let’s just focus on self-driving cars to reduce drunk driving.

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Can I Trick a Breathalyzer?

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

One of the more common questions I get regarding breathalyzers is “Can I do anything to trick the breathalyzer?”

Although it is true that breathalyzers are, by themselves, inaccurate, many people are mistake when they believe that they can trick a breathalyzer into producing a lower reading. In fact, many of the “tricks” that people believe will lower the breathalyzer will have no effect on the reading or may actually increase the reading.

Here are some of the more common methods used by people in trying trick the breathalyzer and their effects on the breath results.

Burping into the Breathalyzer:

This trick is based on the mistaken belief that gas from the stomach contains less alcohol in it than air from the lungs. However, according to a 1992 study from the University of Wisconsin, belching into the breathalyzer had no effect on the blood alcohol content reading.

Use Breath Spray or Mouthwash:

Both breath sprays and mouthwashes contain alcohol. Although the breathalyzer is intended to test the air which comes from deep in the lungs, it can also collect air from the mouth as well. Thus, using a breath spray or a mouthwash could increase the blood alcohol reading than what it would otherwise have been.

Sucking a Penny:

The belief is that the metals of a penny will react with the alcohol causing a breathalyzer reading to be so high that there is no conclusion other than that the breathalyzer was malfunctioning. The air that is exhaled into the breathalyzer comes from deep within the lungs. This air is called alveolar air. The copper located in the mouth would not affect the alcohol content found in the alveolar air. This was confirmed by Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters. In a 2003 episode, the hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman tested this trick and busted it. The pennies had no effect on the breathalyzer.

Eating your Underwear:

Yes, you read that correctly. David Zurfluh, an 18-year-old from Stettler, Alberta, Canada ripped the crotch out of his underwear and stuffed it into his mouth in the hopes that he could reduce the reading on the breathalyzer. Zurfluh has not been the only one. Others have made the same mistake of believing that fabric in the mouth from articles of clothing will absorb the alcohol in the mouth, thus reducing the blood alcohol content reading. As I previously said, the air that is exhaled in the breathalyzer comes from deep in the lungs and fabric in the mouth will not will not affect the reading.

Drinking Caffeine:

Many people believe that they can sober up by drinking coffee. When someone who has been drinking alcohol then drinks caffeine, they are only attempting to make themselves more alert or energized. Being alert has no effect on a person’s blood alcohol content which is what the breathalyzer tests for.

Holding your Breath:

According to the study, “How Breathing techniques Can Influence the Results of Breath-Alcohol Analysis,” holding your breath for 30 seconds before blowing into a breathalyzer can increase the blood alcohol content reading by 15.7 percent.

Hyperventilating:

The least well known trick is the only one which has been shown to reduce the blood alcohol content reading of breathalyzers. According to the same study above, hyperventilating for 20 seconds prior to taking a breath test reduced the blood alcohol content reading of the breathalyzer by 10.6 percent. Simply put, the hyperventilating DUI suspect is replacing the alcohol gas located in the lungs with fresh air.

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$100 for Reporting a Drunk Driver

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

It goes without saying that there are more drunk drivers on the road during the holiday season. Some counties like those in Southern California are increasing patrols and DUI checkpoints. Palm Beach County, however, is offering a $100 reward for reporting a drunk driver as part of its holiday DUI crackdown.

“It gives law enforcement additional eyes on the road,” said the spokeswoman for the Safety Council of the Palm Beaches, Donna Bryan. “Everyone should have an interest in getting impaired drivers off the roads because it could be someone who hits your loved one.”

Palm Beach’s Mobile Eyes program has been operating since 2001 and has reportedly led to hundreds of DUI arrests. But recently, the program was promoted as a way to earn a little extra holiday cash this season.

To most this seems like a win-win situation. Drunk drivers are taken off the road and the person responsible for the arrest earns themselves $100 for the holidays.

So what’s the problem with rewards for reporting drunk drivers?

I’m sure Palm Beach County officials report exactly how many actual drunk drivers are arrested as a result of the program. But I highly doubt they report how many innocent people were stopped and investigated for a possible DUI as a result of the program.

Although well-intentioned, the program encourages people to call 911 on drivers who may or may not be driving drunk simply because there is the possibility of receiving $100. And, what’s more, these people have absolutely no personal knowledge that the driver is actually drunk.

Unfortunately, people are not reporting drunk driving. They’re reporting driving errors, any of which can be interpreted as drunk driving. Everybody makes mistakes while driving. In fact, it might be fair to say that no driving excursion is flawless. This necessarily means that everyone on the road is a target of Mobile Eyes and anyone can be arrested on suspicion of DUI simply because someone else could make $100 for reporting a mistake.

Ok, so someone calls 911 to report a possible drunk driver. Does the tip give law enforcement the right to stop a driver when the officers, themselves, saw nothing to indicate that the driver is driving drunk?

According to the United States Supreme Court, the answer is yes.

In the case of Navarette v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that an anonymous tip gives law enforcement the authority to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence. This is true even though it is impossible to verify the reliability of the tip and the officer has not witnessed any driving that would indicate intoxication.

In his dissent, Justice Scalia voiced the same concerns I expressed above:

“Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road…are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving.”

After the Navarette decision, not only is it acceptable to assist law enforcement in violating the Constitution, now in Palm Beach County, we’re actually rewarding people for doing so.

 

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