Ex-Astronaut Driving With Ignition Interlock

astronaut driving with ignition interlockFewer than 600 humans have gone into space. One of the people to earn this distinction has been astronaut James Halsell Jr., a veteran of five space shuttle missions.

When an astronaut’s career is over, he or she must be resigned to staying earthbound once again. But Halsell’s movements will be even more restricted.

In September, James Halsell caused a crash in Tuscaloosa County that killed two young girls. He was charged with reckless murder as a result. He had previously been involved in another DUI crash. Halsell has pled not guilty to the reckless murder charge.

In Alabama, “reckless murder” is a charge that arises when a person engages in actions which create a serious risk of death to another person, and this reckless behavior ultimately causes the death of the person in question.

As a result of these crimes, Halsell will be prohibited from consuming alcohol, and will have an ignition interlock installed on his vehicle. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

As an astronaut, Halsell had been working with technology that represented the cutting edge of liberation: he piloted a craft that could escape the gravity of earth and allow people to work and advance human knowledge in the hostile vacuum of space.

On earth, he now relies on another kind of technology: the kind that was invented to protect society from those who make the decision to drink and drive.

Ignition interlocks were developed because it was found that, despite fines, jail sentences, and other countermeasures, recidivism was a constant problem with drunk drivers. At present, that percentage is about a quarter, down from 31 percent in 1995.

If a 25 percent recidivism rate seems low, consider that each year about 1.5 million people are arrests for driving under the influence.

Some technologies, like those in the shuttle, lead to new frontiers of exploration. Others, like the breathalyzer technology in an ignition interlock, just keep us safe so that more of us can live to see another day. We’re grateful for both kinds of technology, the kind that enriches life, and the kind that merely saves it.

Drunk Driver Bites Cop. There’s More, But That About Says It.

alcohol impairs judgement - causes woman to bite copOnce again, the signs were all there: it was night. The Jeep sedan’s lights weren’t on. And the Jeep was veering across the center lane. Any police officer would count those as signs of possible impairment, and so the officer had the vehicle pull over on Route 31 South in New Jersey for a routine DUI traffic stop.

The stop was justified: the driver, one Sonia Padmore, turned out to be intoxicated, but what happened next was not routine. The driver, who was not interested in being handcuffed, bit the policeman on each of his hands.

Drivers are told not to drink and drive because it hampers their coordination and their vision.  However, alcohol impairs judgement as well. That means that drivers are not able to decide if it’s safe to pull out into traffic, or to turn left across an oncoming lane, or to judge the speed of other cars (or their own) or the distance of pedestrians.

And it makes them unable to assess the inadvisability of biting a police officer who is arresting them.

Once on each hand.

In this case, driving drunk with an 11-year-old in the car compounded her recklessness. The prosecutor’s charges included drunk driving, aggravate assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, child endangerment, driving without headlights, failing to stay inside a traffic lane, and some others too distasteful to name.

Driving, like life, takes good judgement. When we say that alcohol impairs judgement, we mean that it robs one of the ability to judge pretty much anything.  The news regularly churns out stories of drunk drivers who prove beyond doubt that they don’t possess the judgement to drive, because they can’t even judge how to behave at a traffic stop.

Proof that if you don’t use good judgement and plan your sober ride home, it could come back to bite you.

NTSB’s “Most Wanted List” of Transport Safety Improvements

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its Most Wanted List of 2017-2018. The list is the Board’s yearly recommendations of what goals should be a priority for those who promote transport safety. This new video outlines the whole list.

The NTSB’s bailiwick covers all forms of transportation, so some of the recommendations involve air and rail travel. Here are the ones that are most pertinent to those who follow road safety in particular:

Using Collision Avoidance Technology. This is a rapidly-developing area of transport safety, and a vital one, since human error is responsible for most collisions. There are many such systems in operation already, and others in development. These include pre-collision systems that sense an impending crash and automatically activate brakes and adjust seats, windows, seat belts and other equipment to lessen the impact. There are also lane departure warning systems and pedestrian detection systems which are already saving lives.

Reducing fatigue-related accidents. Fatigue is as dangerous as alcohol, and driver fatigue causes many deaths each year. Getting adequate rest is the answer, but it’s never that simple. Often economic and other pressures are the reason that drivers are on the road without enough rest. These pressures need to be understood and dealt with if the hazard of driver fatigue is to be reduced.

Ending End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment. Few goals in transportation have been pursued so long, and have so long remained out of reach. A third of the nation’s 30,000 road deaths are alcohol-related. That 28 states now require ignition interlocks (car breathalyzers) for all drunk driving offenders is proof that much of the country is taking this goal seriously. But there is much to be done, both in the legislative arena and in the field of public awareness.

Eliminatng distractions. Drivers need to concentrate on what they’re doing, or else they are as dangerous as drunks, and the state of our efforts against driver distraction are nowhere near as organized or persistent as those against impaired driving. Laws and technology need to keep up with the vast array of distractions out there.

Strengthening occupant protections. The NTSB supports improvements in vehicle design, which have already saved countless lives since the days of the rolling death traps of decades ago. NTSB transport safety listThere also needs to be more encouragement to use seat belts – the figures on how many people are killed or injured because they don’t take advantage of this simple safety feature is shocking.

The NTSB has no enforcement authority – it can only make recommendations. It’s only authority comes from the impartiality of its judgements and the depth of its research and knowledge. These are among the Most Wanted improvements because they will, in the judgement of NTSB, save the most lives if they are put into place.

Their word is good enough for us.

Minnesota Police Tweet: Is This DUI Punishment Too Brutal?

dui punishment too muchDrunk driving laws are motor vehicle laws. As such, the states determine the penalties. Wyoming, Minnesota – a town of about 7800 in the northern part of the state – seems to have added a DUI punishment of its own, and the only question is, can they get away with it?

Right before Thanksgiving the Wyoming police department issued a warning to its citizens to forestall any holiday drunk driving. The warning came vita the department’s Twitter account:

The tweet got plenty of attention, and even had some other departments thinking of comparable punishments involving other boy bands. But Wyoming was first past the post, and theirs was the most-retweeted quip.

A glance through the department’s feed shows that they really know how to use social media. Their tweets are informative when necessary, and irreverent when possible. They trade good-natured barbs with other police organizations, and seem to have some fans among cop shops as well.

Not just among police, either. In regards to the DUI tweet one citizen asked, “Do you guys offer Uber rides, but like, free?” to which the department replied, “Yes. To jail.”

It’s a good way to keep the community posted on what law enforcement is doing, while keeping everyone in a good mood.

But we hope that they don’t really play One Direction covers to unconvicted drunk drivers. Fines, jail, ignition interlocks – all are time-honored, constitutionally-approved examples of DUI punishment meant to keep impaired driving in check.

But you can take things too far. Back off, Wyoming PD.

AXE Body Spray in Your Mouth to Cheat a Breathalyzer? Uh, No…

how not to cheat a breathalyzerIt’s interesting to see how the impaired mind works. Cops see it all the time when drunk drivers misjudge their speed, forget what lane they’re in, and underestimate how tight a turn is.

Unfortunately, that same impairment keeps working on drivers once they are pulled over by the police. A driver in Rock Hill, South Carolina in that position did what he thought was the logical thing: he shot some AXE body spray into his mouth.

The driver claimed that it was all part of his head-to-toe body cleansing regimen, but it was obviously a last-ditch attempt to cheat a breathalyzer test.

Note to drunk drivers: AXE body spray will not hide alcohol from a breathalyzer and help you pass the inevitable drunk test. Do not do it.

Why You Can’t Cheat a Breathalyzer

In fact, nothing you can shove in your mouth, short of super-glue, will keep you from failing a breathalyzer test if you have been drinking and are over the limit. A breathalyzer, or an ignition interlock for that matter, does not measure the alcohol in your mouth – it measures the alcohol that is leaving your bloodstream via your lungs. That amount of alcohol is consistent no matter what’s in your mouth. Ingesting breath mints, mouthwash, souvlaki, or cloth diapers will not change the chemical reaction that’s happening in your blood.

In fact, one of the ingredients in AXE body spray is stearyl alcohol. We have no idea whether that would tend to raise the breathalyzer number, but it wouldn’t help.

There are all kinds of false rumors about how to defeat a breathalyzer. The driver in question figured that anything was better than nothing, and he used the materials he had at hand. It didn’t work out well for him: he was booked for DUI.

So how the impaired mind works is one thing – how breathalyzers work is another. Drive sober, and you’ll never be the next test case on How Not to Cheat a Breathalyzer.

MADD Report: Ignition Interlocks and Checkpoints Top Priority

madd-report-2016Every year we get a chance to take stock of how we as a nation are doing in our battle against impaired driving, when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) issues its yearly progress report. The new 2016 Report to the Nation outlines both the progress that has been made, and the many things that still need doing, in order to reach the goal of zero drunk driving victims. Two of its recommendations – interlocks and sobriety checkpoints – remain paramount, but the report outlines other recommendations as well.

In 2006, MADD launched its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, a full-on initiative which resulted in better laws, more public awareness, and ultimately, a significant drop in drunk driving fatalities. In the ten years since the Campaign began, deaths due to drunk driving in the US went from 13,000 per year to 10,000. It’s still too many, but it’s a remarkable improvement, one which would not have happened without the Campaign and its supporters.

What Every State Must Do

The Campaign continues toward its goal of zero victims. MADD rates the states on their anti-drunk driving efforts, using a five-category system. However, this year the organization is using half-stars to provide a more accurate appraisal of each state’s efforts. The categories are:

  • Ignition interlocks: MADD is in favor of requiring these devices for all drunk driving convictions. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Currently 28 states mandate interlocks for all DUI offenses.
  • Sobriety checkpoints: law enforcement must be highly visible to be effective. Checkpoints not only catch offenders but serve as a warning to others not to drink and drive.
  • Administrative license revocation (ALR): revoking a license immediately upon arrest for DUI “removes the immediate threat of a drunk driver harming innocent bystanders.”
  • Child endangerment: driving drunk with a child should be considered child abuse, and should incur serious penalties.
  • No refusal: refusing a sobriety test should be a criminal offense everywhere, as it already is in 33 states.

The Vital Two: Ignition Interlocks and Checkpoints

MADD awards stars to each state depending on how well it employs these countermeasures. And it should be noted that the first two are, in MADD’s view, the most vital:

While all countermeasures are important … we know that ignition interlocks and sobriety checkpoints are the two most effective ways to dramatically reduce fatalities and injuries.

And so the fight begins for another year. MADD will stay at the forefront, but other safety organizations, schools, law enforcement agencies, and legislators all have a part to play. Check out the report and find out where we are as a nation. And perhaps next year’s report will show the country coming a little closer to the goal of zero drunk driving victims.

16 Years of Daily Road Deaths is Maybe Enough. Time to End the Streak?

#EndTheStreakTx campaignIf you didn’t make note of November 7th in Texas, that’s understandable. It was a pretty normal day in the state.  Well, one person did die on Texas roads, but that’s nothing unusual. Someone has died every day on Texas roads every day since November 7th, 2000: 16 years of daily road deaths.

That’s one person a day since before the iPod existed. Since before Facebook and the administrations of G.W. Bush and Barack Obama. People were dying before you had heard of Usain Bolt, Android, and a full ten years before Instagram.

It’s not a good record – in fact, it’s a streak of mayhem that needs to stop now. To that end TxDOT has created a campaign, hashtag #EndTheStreakTX, to help drivers change their behavior.

What needs to change to end this dismal procession? Drivers must:

  • Buckle seatbelts
  • Never drink and drive
  • Pay attention, putting away phones and other distractions
  • Drive the speed limit, and use extra caution when weather conditions warrant

It’s not a lot, but since road deaths are almost all preventable, think of the lives that could be saved if all of this advice was followed. Indeed, since alcohol is responsible for a third of all road fatalities, using designated drivers would dramatically lower the death toll.

TxDOT is asking Texans to change their social medial profile pictures to ones they provide to popularize the effort to end the streak.  You can find all the information on their site.

Change your picture. Use the hashtag #EndTheStreakTx. And above all, drive safely to follow the hints above, so Texas can end this morbid streak and become a much safer place for everyone to drive.

328,743 Things We’re Thankful For Today

be thankful for ignition interlocksToday is the day Americans total up the things they’re grateful for.

On a personal level, we can reflect on how our families and friends have touched our lives this year. Some of us are grateful for good jobs, for good parents or kids, or a warm house or enough food.

Here’s something that everyone in the country can be thankful for.

At last count, there were 328,743 ignition interlocks installed in vehicles around the country. Thanks to the devices, 328,743 vehicles will not start if the driver has been drinking.

Some of those drivers are first-time offenders. But many others are repeat offenders who would drive drunk again – recidivism is a well-known problem with impaired driving. The ignition interlock is all that stands between those people and the possibility of a terrible collision.

We know that interlock devices work because the data from them is logged and counted up. MADD estimates that ignition interlocks have prevented some 1.77 million drunk driving incidents since the devices began being adopted by states.

Ignition interlocks never sleep. They ‘re always on the job, day and night, making sure that the vehicle they’re in charge of does not leave the curb or driveway unless the driver is in proper shape to drive. That’s how they keep all of us safe, every day, all over the country.

Every year more states pass laws requiring all drunk driving offenders to install ignition interlocks. Currently 28 states have such laws, and more states are coming on board. So the number of installed devices is likely to go up in the coming years.

Which would give us even more to be thankful for next year.

In the meantime, we’re thankful not only for the ignition interlocks that keep so many people sober on the roads, and so many people safe on the roads, but for the legislators, public safety advocates, and citizens who have worked to bring about  better ignition interlock laws.

To you, on this day, our thanks.

Vermont Drunk Driving Stories: Changing Pants and Other Dumb Ideas

Your Hump-day Recess: Drive it Like You Stole It.

vermont drunk driving changing pantsIt’s not the alcohol that’s dangerous when you drive. Really, it’s not. It’s the stuff that you do after you drink the alcohol. To put it another way, it’s the dumb decisions you make when you’re under the influence.

Sometimes the decisions are traffic-related: turning against traffic when there’s not enough time, or driving at a speed that’s too high for your ability to control a vehicle. Sometimes it’s the decision to drive at all, when you’re obviously unable to control a vehicle.

In these Vermont drunk driving stories, it was a matter of changing pants and stealing cars.

Dressed for Failure

First case: a tractor-trailer driver decided to change his pants without bothering to stop his big rig first. He stood up in the front cab and wiggled out of his trousers, but the whole process was too tough, and he ended up tipping over on the I-89 near Williston.

His blood alcohol concentration was .20, or five times the legal limit of .04 for a commercial driver.

Making the Most of a Bad Decision

Second case: a man in South Burlington was arrested for driving a car that had been reported stolen. He was found to be intoxicated. What isn’t clear is whether the man was already drunk and then decided to steal the car (two bad decisions – stealing the car and then driving drunk), or whether he had already stolen the car and then decided to drink (still two bad decisions, but not influenced directly by alcohol). Somehow we doubt the second scenario, as the whole thing reeks of the kind of reckless decision making that alcohol is known for causing.

The moral: don’t drink and drive. Don’t drive and dress. Don’t steal cars under any circumstances. And if you tend to do dumb things when you drink, don’t.

When Driving, What Does “One Beer Too Many” Mean?

too many beers to drive - how many?It was a routine traffic stop in Royalton Road in Cleveland – a police officer spotted a Honda Odyssey weaving in the road. When the minivan was pulled over, the officer smelled alcohol. That’s plenty of evidence for a sobriety test, which the driver took and failed.

The driver later admitted to having “one beer too much.”

So, what does that “one beer do? If this man is any indication:

  • It makes a minivan veer dangerously into the opposing lane
  • It makes you forget you have expired license plates
  • It causes you to go driving without your license

What’s disturbing is not just that this man was clearly not in any shape to drive. It’s that he thought that his condition was the result of “one beer too many.”

There are two things wrong with his thinking:

First, he obviously had a lot more than one beer too many. It takes an average man about four beers to get to .08, depending on factors like size, age, fitness, and how fast he’s drinking.  If he’d in fact downed four beers to get to that state, then three beers would have still made him too tipsy to drive.

But worse than the drink counting is the mentality of the driver: the idea that it’s all right to get behind the wheel with a belly full of beer as long as you don’t exceed that magic number. The fact is, it’s not safe to drink any amount of alcohol and drive.  It’s dangerous to drive right after drinking one drink. While the legal intoxication blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is .08, your coordination and reaction time are affected at a much lower level. If you cause a collision while your BAC is at .04, you can still be charged with drunk driving.

The idea of “one too many” is old school – it comes from the days when people regularly drank and drove, and took pride in their ability to get home despite the amount of booze they’d ingested. There was a bloodbath on the roads in those days, and it took a lot of legislation and education to change public attitudes towards drunk driving.

Apparently, in Cleveland, it will take a little more for some people, who haven’t gotten the memo yet: when driving, one too many is a lot fewer than you think.