Post details: Reason.com: "Abolish Drunk Driving Laws / If lawmakers are serious about saving lives, they should focus on impairment, not alcohol"

01/02/11

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Reason.com: "Abolish Drunk Driving Laws / If lawmakers are serious about saving lives, they should focus on impairment, not alcohol"

Abolish Drunk Driving Laws / If lawmakers are serious about saving lives, they should focus on impairment, not alcohol by Radley Balko in Reason Magazine:

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo wants to create a new criminal offense: “driving while ability impaired.” The problem with the current Texas law prohibiting “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), Acevedo explained to the Austin-American Statesman in October, is that it doesn’t allow him to arrest a driver whose blood-alcohol content (BAC) is below 0.08 percent unless there’s additional evidence of impairment.

. . .

These constitutionally dubious checkpoints have become little more than revenue generators for local governments. When local newspapers inquire about specific roadblocks after the fact, they inevitably find lots of fines for minor infractions but few drunk drivers. In 2009, according to a story at the investigative journalism site California Watch and data from the University of California at Berkeley, 1,600 sobriety checkpoints in California generated $40 million in fines, $30 million in overtime pay for cops, 24,000 vehicle confiscations, and just 3,200 arrests for drunk driving. A typical nightly checkpoint would divert 20 or more cops from other tasks while yielding a dozen or more vehicle confiscations but only about three drunk driving arrests.

In addition to the Fourth Amendment issues raised by roadblocks, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination has been turned upside down by state laws that instantly suspend the licenses of drivers who refuse to take roadside breath tests. Most manufacturers of breath test machines have refused to turn over their source code, meaning DWI defendants can’t assess the machines’ margin of error—a significant factor in a case where the difference between 0.80 and 0.79 for a first offense can mean $1,000 or more in fines, mandatory alcohol awareness classes, and loss of driving privileges for up to a year.

Blood tests are far more accurate, but by the time a driver is pulled over, questioned, taken to the nearest hospital, and had his blood drawn, his BAC may be significantly different from what it was when he was driving. Perversely, the time lapse can have the effect of protecting guiltier motorists.
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