MADD: A Breathalyzer in every car

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has an ambitious long-range plan to prevent drunk driving: Have ignition interlock devices which sense alcohol and prevent the vehicle from starting installed in every vehicle in the country, whether the driver has been convicted of drunk driving or not.

And of course they have state and federal government officials behind them, ready to offer whatever support they might need.

But first, they’ll start by pressuring states to adopt laws requiring them to be installed for anyone convicted of drunk driving, even on a first offense. Currently only New Mexico requires this, and MADD presents (with help from the New York Times) some badly fudged numbers to try to say that this actually helped reduce drunk driving fatalities in that state.

With that tactic and others, the state saw an 11.3 percent drop in alcohol-related fatalities last year.

New Mexico was not the only state to record a decline in alcohol-related motoring deaths, and several states showed even bigger drops. For example, from 2004 to 2005, Maryland showed a decrease to 235 from 286, or 17.8 percent. In New Mexico, which has had a chronic problem with drunken driving, state officials cited the new rule on interlocks as a significant factor in their campaign to cut the fatality rate. The rule did not take effect until June 17, 2005.

“It is an integral part of our success,” said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who thinks others should follow his state’s lead. — New York Times

Did you catch it? No? They really have no idea what effect the new interlock rules had on drunk driving fatalities in the state. They’re just throwing out numbers and hoping nobody catches on to the deception.

Jacob Sullum of Reason explains more:

The policy has been strikingly effective in New Mexico, the Times suggests, but it immediately undermines the claim of success [in the quoted paragraph shown above] . . .

Undeterred by the lack of evidence to support this expansion in the use of BAC-keyed ignition locks, Mothers Against Drunk Driving looks forward to the day when everyone has to prove his sobriety before starting his car. MADD Executive Director Chuck Hurley suggests insurers will begin offering discounts to drivers whose cars are equipped with the devices. I’ve got no problem with that in principle, except that the cutoff is established by legislators in response to political pressure from groups like MADD. . . .

Speaking of which, the Times suggests that progress in reducing alcohol-related traffic deaths has stalled during the last decade because the total number has remained more or less steady at around 13,000 a year. But it also notes (in a clause that for some reason appears only in the print version of the article) that “the rates of deaths per car and per mile traveled have declined,” which sounds like progress to me. A more fundamental problem with the numbers is that the definition of an “alcohol-related” accident does not require any evidence that drinking actually contributed to the crash — just a BAC above zero in one of the drivers. By the same logic, we could conclude that sobriety is responsible for more accidents than drinking is. — Hit and Run

The Times then goes on to survey some of the new technology that might be used in the future to “unobtrusively” determine whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol before allowing the car to start.

And completely glosses over the rest of the details of MADD’s mad plan: First, have these devices installed in fleet vehicles, such as taxis, and later in everyone’s vehicle. They’ll first offer insurance incentives, and then they’ll just push for laws making it mandatory for all vehicles to have such a technology.

Never mind that the technology is completely unreliable in the first place. “These machines aren’t nearly as accurate as law enforcement would have you believe,” says California DUI attorney Lawrence Taylor.

MADD ultimately wants to bring back alcohol prohibition. “Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a well-organized, well-funded and dangerous group of well-intentioned zealots,’ said Taylor.

Update: Readers who did not want to be identified pointed me to the National Motorists Association’s much more sensible position on drunk driving, as well as Lew Rockwell’s most sensible idea of all.