Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.”     Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

November 20, 2006

What Should Be Done About Drunk Driving ?

by Doug Mataconis

Today, the New York Times writes about the increasing movement to require even first-time DUI offenders to have ignition-interlock systems installed on their cars that would require them to pass a breathalyzer test before they could start their cars:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 — The threat of arrest and punishment, for decades the primary tactic against drunken drivers, is no longer working in the struggle to reduce the death toll, officials say, and they are proposing turning to technology — alcohol detection devices in every vehicle — to address the problem.

In the first phase of the plan, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, backed by a national association of state highway officials and car manufacturers, will announce here on Monday a campaign to change drunken driving laws in 49 states to require that even first offenders install a device that tests drivers and shuts down the car if it detects alcohol.

Many states already require the devices, known as ignition interlocks, for people who have been convicted several times. Last year New Mexico became the first to make them mandatory after a first offense. With that tactic and others, the state saw an 11.3 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities last year.

Here in Virginia, ignition interlocks are required even for first time offenders whose BAC level exceeds a certain limit. And, it’s hard to see many people arguing against extending these requirements to everyone convicted of a DUI offense, as New Mexico is poised to do. The problem, though, is that it’s quite easy to see where MADD is headed next:

Two companies have introduced products that hint at future strategies. Saab, which is owned by General Motors, is testing in Sweden a Breathalyzer that attaches to a key chain and will prevent a car from starting if it senses too much alcohol. Taxi companies and other fleet owners are the target market, the company said.

A New Mexico company, TruTouch Technologies, is modifying a technique developed for measuring blood chemistry in diabetics and using it to measure alcohol instead. The appliance shines a light through the skin on the forearm and analyzes what bounces back.

Future devices may read alcohol content when a driver’s palm touches the steering wheel or the gear shift lever, said Jim McNally, the chief executive of TruTouch.

In other words, Big Brother will be watching what you drink. Sean Lynch writes about this issue today at Catallarchy and makes this excellent point:

Far more motor vehicle deaths are provably caused by excessive speed. Most people who receive speeding tickets have received a speeding ticket before, and most people who receive one speeding ticket will eventually receive a second. Therefore, let’s require everyone who has ever received a speeding ticket to have a device installed in their car from exceeding the posted speed limit. Everyone knows that posted speed limits are frequently too low, just like a .08% BAC is too low for the vast majority of the population. And almost all of us speed, just like most of us have driven with >= .08% BAC at some point in our lives. But, of course, since we’re suddenly talking about the majority instead of some demonizable minority (i.e. “drunk drivers”), such a requirement would never pass.

Or would it ?

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8 Comments

  1. The State of Washington already requires Ignition Interlock Devices for anyone convicted of Driving Under the Influence. This includes first time offenders as well.

    As a former prosecuting attorney and former DUI defense attorney I fully endorse Interlocks as standard automobile equipment. There are 47,000 DUI arrests on average in the State of Washington yearly. Across the United States each year an average of 13,500 people die from a driver operating his vehicle under the influence.

    That is too many arrests and too many deaths to oppose Interlocks for every vehicle. Think of them as a seat belt. Both save lives on the roadways. For a more detailed reasongin check out http://www.seattle-duiattorney.com/blog.html .

    Comment by Mr.Shad0w — November 22, 2006 @ 12:36 pm
  2. And who decided that you should save my life? If I don’t want to wear a helmet on my motorcycle or a seat belt in my car, why is it anyone’s business but my own? It’s this sort of thinking that led to the first revolution. Government that thinks it knows better for me than I know for myself. How about if I start regulating your life Mr. DA?

    Comment by Adam Selene — November 22, 2006 @ 12:46 pm
  3. Mr Shadow,

    The use of ignition interlock devices as a punishment for someone convicted of DUI is one thing, what MADD and its allies really want, as the article I linked to makes clear is to have EVERY CAR sold in the United States come with such a device. At the very least, its a presumption of guilt (you will drive drunk, therefore we intend to stop you from doing so).

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — November 22, 2006 @ 12:54 pm
  4. Oh, Mr. Shadow made clear that he wants the same thing, that he views interlocks as equivalent to seat belts. Interestingly, I do too. And I consider seatbelt laws an intrusion on my personal liberty that the government has no power to make.

    Comment by Adam Selene — November 22, 2006 @ 12:57 pm
  5. The best analogy I’ve heard (from someone on this site, if I’m not mistaken) is that speeding/reckless driving kills a sizeable number of people every year as well. So why not require engine governors to limit the speed of cars to the speed limit? After all, it would force us to obey the law and it would save lives.

    People tend to see things a little different when the government wants to control YOU, rather than “the lawbreakers.”

    Comment by mike — November 22, 2006 @ 1:02 pm
  6. The problem, Mr. Shadow, is that your numbers are incorrect. Our organization offers $20,000 to anyone who can PROVE that 13,500 people are actually killed by drunk drivers. Why? Because we’ve downloaded the data and looked at it ourselves and found the number to be closer to about 1000.

    Now why would our government lie to us and tell us it’s so much more? Control and money. MADD, insurance companies, municipalities all make money off of DUI laws. And now we have a new player, the maker of the ignition interlock, wanting to get their share of the pie.

    DUI is a big industry Mr. Shadow and the road to profits comes from our wallets.

    Comment by Jeanne Pruett — November 29, 2006 @ 6:53 am
  7. If the MADDERS ever succeded at pushing legislation requiring interlock ignition devices in every new car I would never buy a new vehicle again, ever! The auto industry is in shambles right now any way. People will get fed up with the nonsense.

    I thought the USA was a free country!

    Comment by Rich — November 29, 2006 @ 7:25 am
  8. There you go thinking again Rich.

    Comment by Eric — November 29, 2006 @ 9:11 am

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