They Died for Freedom. Will You Die For Something a Lot Less Important?

memorial day 2017 cemetery WA

Holidays come around each year. So does holiday behavior. In the US, a holiday weekend is marked by family celebration, free time, picnics, cookouts, road trips and relaxation. It’s also marred by the appearance of drunk driving statistics.

The number of car crash injuries every Memorial Day is staggering – more than 50,000. Fatalities number around 400. There are several reasons for the crashes, but the most serious one – accounting for almost half of all collisions – is alcohol.

The other causes are distraction – an ever-growing menace – and speed. Many of the injuries and deaths can also be put down to not wearing seat belts and improper child seating arrangements.

It seems strange that we would designate a holiday to commemorate the deaths of those who fought to keep us safe, and then risk our lives for utterly silly reasons – because we couldn’t be bothered with a designated driver, or didn’t want to click a seat belt, or couldn’t live without reading that text that just came in.

Those brave soldiers didn’t die so we could toss away lives carelessly. We owe them for their sacrifice, and one way to honor it is to treat with respect the lives that they made possible. So this Memorial Day:

  • Don’t drive drunk. Have a plan for keeping driving and alcohol separate.
  • Don’t drive while fatigued.
  • Don’t speed.
  • Don’t be distracted. The text can wait.

Remember: some people give a life for a cause. But no one should throw away a life for anything.

LifeSafer wishes you a happy – and safe – Memorial Day weekend.

How Ignition Interlock Data Helped Catch a Repeat Drunk Driver

interlock monitoring data showing repeat drunk driver activityIn 2010 Alexander Peder drove drunk and killed two teens in Washington State. He was already a repeat drunk driver at the time, with two DUI arrests on his record, but both of those previous instances had been pleaded down to lesser charges, which was perhaps why he was on the road. After serving more than 6 years in prison, Peder was released on condition that he use an ignition interlock –a car breathalyzer device prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Ignition Interlock Monitoring Saves Lives

When people hear about a repeat drunk driver being required to install an ignition interlock, they imagine ways that the offender might try to circumvent the device. Most of them – balloons, hair dryers, having a friend start the car – are not possible thanks to improving technology which requires a human to take the test, and requires the driver to keep re-testing periodically while driving.

Another way one might try to “get around” the interlock is to use a different vehicle. However, Peder’s case shows how this doesn’t work either. Data from the device – starts, stops, the results of breath tests – is recorded and sent to monitoring authorities every month in Washington State. The monitors saw that Peder wasn’t using his car very often – the tests showed suspiciously few starts – they alerted Washington State Patrol, who staked out Peder’s house and caught him using another vehicle.

Why Interlocks Do What 24/7 Cannot

As a result of his infraction, Peder is now back on 24/7 alcohol monitoring, but he also has to use an ignition interlock. This is as it should be. The 24/7 monitoring, which requires offenders to check in twice a day for alcohol testing, is a good way to get offenders to deal with alcohol problems and stick to their treatment responsibilities. However, 24/7 can’t stop someone from leaving the testing center, having some drinks, and driving. According to the judge who reinstated Peder’s alcohol monitoring, Peder had a history of skipping tests.

Ignition Interlocks are designed to make roads safer. They prevent most people from drinking and driving outright. And when a determined offender tries to bypass the interlock by using another vehicle, the monitoring kicks in and reveals that fact to the authorities.

Repeat Drunk Drivers and Ignition Interlocks

Drunk driving, and particularly the persistence of a repeat drunk driver, is a stubborn problem, but not an insurmountable one. Over the years technology has made great progress in keeping intoxicated persons from getting behind the wheel. The more people are aware of the advantages of ignition interlocks, the more support the devices will have when it comes time to strengthen anti-DUI legislation. And that support is vital, because no other device can specifically track an offender’s driving and keep repeat drunk drivers from taking to the road and endangering lives.

Update: Driving Drunk Is Not Any Safer With a Lizard in Your Bra

Your Hump-Day Recess: Another Folk Remedy Bites the Dust

woman driving drunk with lizard

Old standby: bra lizard, now out of favor

It’s long been accepted wisdom that if you are driving drunk, the way to get home safely is to stuff a bearded dragon lizard in your bra. A recent crash in Taunton, Massachusetts seems to call this age-old piece of advice into question.

Amy Rebello-McCarthy was driving with a friend on Staple Street with a blood alcohol level just shy of double the legal limit of .08., which might not have been a problem had the lizard done its job. But the power of in-bra reptiles to control vehicles is apparently overrated: Rebello-McCarthy knocked over 6 mailboxes, shredded all four of her tires, and ripped her bumpers off.

Her passenger was not a great deal of help – he wasn’t able to recall his first or last name.

New, Non-Lizard Strategy Needed for OUI

Since bearded dragon lizards don’t help, it’s important to work out a strategy that does if you are drinking. One idea is not to drink and drive. This simple procedure, followed by millions of sensible people, has saved countless lives since the dawn of the motoring age.

Sometimes this strategy requires a bit more forethought than inserting an Australian reptile into one’s underwear. It usually requires one of the following:

  • Calling a taxi or a rideshare.
  • Designating a driver before the evening starts. That person does not drink at all, and performs chauffeuring duties. Lizards do not count as designated drivers.
  • Walking or taking public transportation.

There might be other animals which, when placed in a bra, are able to help a drunk driver keep control of a vehicle and drive safely. So far none has been found, and to be honest, we’re not very confident that any will. Until this area of study turns up something, the safest bet for avoiding broken mailboxes, shredded tires, ripped bumpers as well as jail, fines, ignition interlock requirements and an OUI record is to not drink and drive.

Sorry to burst your bubble. We know you were counting on the lizard Friday night.

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.
Previous Hump Days: a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, our Top 10 Worst Crash Tests, a different kind of Anti-DUI message, Budweiser’s dogged anti-DUI campaign, How Not to Dodge a Parking Ticket, the world’s worst traffic jams, a dramatic buzzed driving PSA , an offbeat ad from New ZealandVince and Larry, our favorite crash test dummies, some excellent Soviet anti-drunk-driving posters, a lesson on how buzzed driving can ruin your love life, South Australia to Drunk Drivers: Grow Up!, a woman calls 911 to report herself for DUI, Felix the Cat and Drunk Driving,  DUIs who crash vintage cars – (ouch!), Woman Unwittingly Creates Self-Driving Car, A Brilliant PSA from Australia, a Road Safety Message in a Vodka Bottle, a PSA about binge drinking that is decidedly “meh,” Drunk Driver Crashes $4 Million Car, Drunk Driving in 1910, a Superb New Think! PSA from the UKDrunk Driving in 1955: New Breath Test Technology Will Save the Day!, the Best Animated Gifs About Drunk Driving, Angle Parking: A Surreal DUI Stop Photo, a Hertz Advertisement that Could Have Used Another Set of Eyes, a Laugh Out Loud Anti-Drunk Driving Ad, How to Beat a Breathalyzer with Peanut Butter … Not!Who Knew? GM Invented the DUI Ignition Interlock in 1970 and a souvenir from back when drunk driving was funny.

Wisconsin OWI Driver Had 8-Year-Old Steer the Car

reaction to wisconsin owi driver using 8 year oldDrivers make a lot of assumptions on the road. One of them is that the other drivers will generally be acting rationally. Of course, defensive driving demands that we be on the alert for sudden stoppers, speeders, tailgaters, and others who drive poorly. But we generally assume that things that the human in the other car will, when pressed, make a sane decision.

It doesn’t always work that way. Recently an intoxicated woman was arrested after it was found that she had seated an 8-year-old boy on her lap and had him steer the car.

The judgement the driver showed was staggeringly bad, and the laws she broke were many:

  • She drove drunk. Even in Wisconsin this is not legal, though it is dealt with much too leniently in general.
  • She drove drunk with a child in the car. This is child endangerment.
  • She allowed a child to control the car. Only licensed drivers can operate a motor vehicle, obviously.
  • The child was not seated and belted properly.

The point is not how seriously the offender screwed up – though it’s hard to imagine a more reckless set of actions on the road. It’s how alcohol, when added as a factor on the road, can inject so many factors that endanger lives. In this case we had a driver who couldn’t control the car or make good judgments, a person steering who didn’t know how to drive, and a child who would have been seriously injured or killed in a crash.

Had a sheriff’s deputy not seen the car in question with the child on the driver’s lap, the story could have ended tragically.

After years behind the curve of anti-impaired driving legislation in this country, some public safety advocates are trying to make Wisconsin OWI laws catch up, and that’s good. Cases like this illustrate the power of alcohol as a mind-altering drug. Wisconsin needs to require ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – for all offenders over .08 BAC. And after their interlock term, they should keep their device on unless they have gone for 4 months without a failed test (compliance-based removal).

A disregard for drunk driving laws is a disregard for human life. For this reason, the laws need to be strong and well enforced, both on the road – by police – and afterwards, with persistent prosecution, access to treatment, and mandatory ignition interlocks to keep the public safe.

Senate Bill 259 Bill Aims to Keep Nevada Citizens Alive.

Nevada ignition interlock bill signsNevada’s Senator Mark Manendo is out to save lives. Make no mistake about that.

Manendo sponsored Nevada Senate Bill 259, which revises state DUI laws in a way that takes dangerous impaired drivers off the road. It does that by increasing access to ignition interlocks – car breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

This Nevada ignition interlock bill makes a variety of intelligent changes to existing DUI laws:

Existing Law: Upon DUI arrest, your license is revoked for 90 days.

SB 259: Revocation would be 185 days for DUI. However, you would be allowed to drive with a restricted license if install an ignition interlock.

Existing Law: Ignition interlocks are only required for felony DUIs or misdemeanor DUIs with a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

SB 259: All drunk driving offenses would require an ignition interlock if the offender wants to restore driving privileges.

There are some other provisions that show that Manendo and other proponents of the new Nevada ignition interlock bill have their thinking cap on:

  • An officer must advise a driver upon arrest that he or she must install an ignition interlock to get driving privileges restored. This eliminates the “I didn’t know” excuse.
  • The law also allows the court to extend the ignition interlock period if the interlock provider reports failed tests due to alcohol. This is a vital provision: if a driver cannot get used to driving sober, it’s important to keep the ignition interlock on the vehicle for the protection of the
  • Also, the restricted driver’s license would include a notation that the driver requires an ignition interlock. This ensures that a violator won’t slip by at a traffic stop.
  • Another change, and a big one: anyone helping a user pass an ignition interlock breath test by supplying a breath sample is guilty of a misdemeanor. This type of provision is surprisingly rare, even as dram shop and social host laws holding people liable for the damage wrought by drunk drivers are on the rise. Why should it be different for someone enabling a drunk person to drive?
  • Once you have applied for the restricted license, failure to install the device will result in a further license revocation of 3 or 5 years, depending on one’s record. This helps plug a loophole that allows offenders to avoid installing an ignition interlock.
  • Finally, the new law makes discounts and waivers available for people below the federal poverty level. This is important in order to ensure that the law is fair to all.

Is SB 259 perfect? Not quite. A DUI offender can choose not to apply for driving privileges and avoid the interlock altogether. While this seems reasonable, it means that there will be suspended drivers without interlocks who may choose to drive anyway, in violation of the law. Research shows that more than half of offenders with revoked licenses drive anyway.

But despite this flaw, Senate Bill 259 is an excellent set of additions to Nevada DUI law, and Senator Manendo was right when he called the Nevada ignition interlock bill a “lifesaving measure.”

Will it save Nevadan lives? Only if it passes.  And road safety advocates such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) want it to pass.  One of the documents placed in exhibit during the legislative discussions outlines the case for SB 259 in detail.

But we’ll just ask Nevadans: please take a look around at your friends and family. Do you want to protect them from drunk drivers? Then help SB 259 pass.

Will Hosting Underage Drinking In Wisconsin Finally Be Banned?

It’s an area of law that many thought was settled, even if they weren’t sure exactly how. The law concerns minors, and whether or not adults can serve alcohol to them in their own homes.

But the issue is far from settled. Thanks to the 2nd District Court of Appeals, who ruled last month on the matter, hosting underage drinking in Wisconsin is okay. In your own home, you can mix up martinis for your teenagers.

But a number of legislators want to change that. Led by Representative Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), these lawmakers want to close a loophole in Wisconsin law and make it illegal for adults to host underage drinking parties.

Exposing the Loophole: Allowing Underage Drinking

Fond du Lac had its own ordinance prohibiting just such parties when a local citizen found himself in violation of it, after under-21s began drinking at his son’s high school graduation party. The offender, Stuart Muche, sued, arguing that the local law prohibiting the kids from drinking at home is improperly stricter than state law.

The court agreed. Wisconsin state law prohibits adults from hosting minors on “premises” that the adult controls. Muche argued that “premises” means a tavern, store, or restaurant, not a home, and the judge concurred with Muche’s interpretation of the word.

The upshot: some 54 local laws prohibiting teen drinking parties were thrown out.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 275 – Fixing the Loophole

It’s no secret that underage drinking is a bad idea. A larger percentage of young people who drink also drink and drive. Early alcohol use has been linked to other problems as well, and while discouraging adults from providing alcohol to minors won’t solve those problems completely, they might help to shift Wisconsin’s notorious drinking culture just a little.

Thus Wisconsin Assembly Bill 275 is now moving through the assembly. The bill would prohibit adults from hosting underage drinking parties – or indeed, any underage drinking – in their homes. Similar bills have failed before, but perhaps Wisconsinites are ready to tackle this issue and give their young people a safer start in life.

Yakima Deputy Mayor Apologizes for her DUI. Is That Enough?

voting box won't allow drunk driving politicianIn this age when everybody’s transgressions get revealed and repeated on social media, politicians and public servants have a hard time. No misstep escapes the public eye, least of all when it involves a drunk driving politician.

The Yakima County Deputy Mayor has apologized for her DUI arrest a few weeks ago. Carmen Mendez had rear-ended another car and was found to have a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. That incident fueled plenty of social media talk, but her recent public apology stirred up even more.

In her statement, Mendez said that the public had the right to expect that public officials admit errors and deal with the consequences with integrity.

The question some ask is, what are the consequences of a DUI in while in public office? Should they include leaving that office?

DUI and Employment

Plenty of convicted drunk drivers lose their jobs, it must be noted. Just about anywhere a school or city bus driver cannot work with a drunk driving conviction on his or her record. Since DUIs involve suspension, taxi and delivery drivers are out of luck. A commercial driver’s license might no longer be a possibility. Even if an employer wants to retain a worker with a DUI record, the rise in insurance rates might force a dismissal.

There are also licensed professions in which a conviction could result in the inability to practice. This could include the medical and law professions.

Should Politicians Be Better?

If, as Carmen Mendez says, the public has a right to expect public officials to admit errors, one must ask: do they have the right to expect public officials not to make errors at all? Perhaps politicians should lead exemplary lives in order to inspire confidence in government.

No doubt a DUI shows bad judgement at the very least, and possibly alcohol problems and a disregard for the safety of others as well. None are good qualities for a public servant.

However, it’s possible to recover and join the ranks of responsible citizens. Mike Crapo continues as U.S. Senator from Idaho despite a 2013 DUI conviction. State legislatures include a number of politicians whose drunk driving has been overlooked by voters. If you add judges and other municipal officers, it’s a long list. Presumably most of these people have learned their lesson and no longer break the law.

A drunk driving politician is not the end of the world. It’s important, though, that the offender in question is not treated with kid gloves. Jail, fines, suspension, and ignition interlock should all be part of the package, whether you are a fry cook or a deputy mayor. And so should a second chance.

New Mexico Anti-DWI Video: A Night in Jail is No Picnic

NMDOT, New Mexico’s Department of Transportation, is a tireless advocate of awareness campaigns against drunk driving. For years the organization has been spreading the message that impaired driving doesn’t pay, using a series of dramatic and compelling video PSAs to make the point.

The latest in their ENDWI campaign is a series of spots in the “scared straight” mold. It documents the New Mexico DWI arrest and imprisonment of a young man who clearly has had no experience in the criminal life before then. In one night he’s introduced to the reality of jail.

The spots document the arrest, the herding of prisoners through a degrading and frightening process, culminating in the suggestion of violence in the jail cell.

The jury is still out on whether or not people, particularly in NMDOT’s young-skewed target audience, is capable of being scared. But it pays to remind everyone that if you are arrested for DWI in New Mexico you will spend the night in jail, and that is a very unpleasant experience. In the words of the narrator, “You don’t feel like a real person anymore.”

There is no one PSA that covers all the bases: drunk driving is a complicated matter, and so are drunk driving videos. There’s the arrest, the possibility of injuring oneself or others, the shame of the crime, the social cost, and the economic cost, among other disincentives to be explored. There are also strategies, encouragements, and appeals to common sense. Nothing works on its own; the combined message, added to strict laws, consistent enforcement and mandatory ignition interlock devices, will sometimes do the trick. And the people behind NMDOT’s ENDWI “Reality” campaign are determined to try everything they can to bring down the state’s DWI numbers. Let’s hope they scared a few people with this one.

Messages Matter: Study Claims Anti-Drunk Driving PSAs Save Lives

tv with anti-drunk driving PSAsIf television has told you once, it’s told you ten thousand times: don’t drink and drive. Most of us grew up with televised reminders of the dangers of drunk driving. Depending on how old we are, we might have been exposed to one or another campaign from the Ad Council, which has been dispensing advice about sober driving since before the days of the cathode ray tube.

Yet according to a recent study at Cornell University, it’s not enough. Or more specifically, more anti-drunk-driving public service announcements (PSAs) would reduce drunk driving more – to the tune of 35 live saved in a city of 1 million.

The Cornell study looked at the number and timing of alcohol-control PSAs along with the corresponding rates of alcohol-related road fatalities, and came to this conclusion: “… higher volumes of anti-drunk driving PSAs airing in the preceding 2 to 3 months are associated, albeit modest in magnitude, with reduced rates of drunk-driving fatal accidents.”

The “modest” part comes, in part, from the fact that the messages hit hardest in prime time, which is expensive. Donated air time in those hours is rare.

So messages make a difference. As the authors put it, “PSAs could play an important contributing role in reducing drunk-driving fatal accidents.” What’s needed is more well-funded anti-drunk driving campaigns.

If TV ads can get the message across, then perhaps personal messages can too. Parents in particular can make sure that their teens understand the dangers of drunk driving. And if the study tells us anything, it’s that one message is not enough: it needs to be repeated often.

MADD: Drunk Driving is Still the Number 1 Killer on the Road

man drunk drivingThere’s been a lot of talk lately about road deaths and what cause them. A nationwide opioid epidemic has put drugged driving in the spotlight. And there’s no doubt that driving under the influence of drugs has been a curse on the roads, accounting for many deaths and injuries. A recent update to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association has led some to conclude that drugged driving is the worst killer on the road.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says it’s not true: alcohol still takes more lives on the road. A press release by MADD explains some of the reasons for its position:

  • There is a scientific correlation between blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and impairment. Given a specific BAC, we know how impaired a person was. No such scale or correlation exists for the variety of drugs found in a driver’s bloodstream: it is impossible to calculate impairment, and thus determine how much of a factor the drug was in the collision.
  • In fact, many drug tests cannot measure the amount of a drug in the bloodstream, only its presence. Moreover, in some cases (such as cannabis) the test will reveal the presence of drugs which might have been taken days ago, and which have no effect.

The upshot is that the measurement of drug impairment is a mess, and a lot of drug false positives are making it into the picture, skewing the results.

MADD is indeed concerned about drugged driving, and is in favor of measures to keep all impaired drivers off the road. They are just concerned that the public might get the impression that drunk driving has been solved, and that it’s time to move on.

The fact is, alcohol still accounts for about 10,000 road deaths every year. At some point we will have accurate drug testing and measurement methods so we can find out how many lives are given up to drugged driving, and we fear it will be a lot. MADD has supported efforts to measure and prevent drugged driving, as well as strong penalties.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving logoEventually technology will play a part in drugged driving prevention. Today 29 states have laws requiring all drunk driving offenders to use ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. When similar devices are able to do the same job for drugged drivers, MADD will surely support them as well. Until then, let’s not lose sight of the number 1 killer on the roads, and use the measures that MADD has supported for years to keep bringing those numbers down.