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November 20, 2006

Technology versus toughness to combat drunk driving

This article today in the New York Times spotlights that, at least in the arena of drunk driving, the modern move is to technology (rather than tougher sentences) to combat a severe crime problem.  Here are the basic details:

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.

Though I laud the effort to turn to technology to combat crime, it is once again telling that the scourge of drunk driving prompts innovate crime-fighting techniques rather than calls for harsher sentences.  (Consider the contrast to the way we are dealing with on-line crimes, as discussed here.)

Some related posts on drunk driving sentencing:

November 20, 2006 at 07:45 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Dec 6, 2006 1:23:52 AM


I see no theoretical problem with requiring the ignition interlock device after the first conviction for impaired driving. But there is a practical problem -- the capacity of the private corporations who manufacture and install these devices to meet the increased demand which would result from such a requirement. One would expect the private marketplace to respond to this, but I've been hearing stories here in NC about lengthy delays in installation. I can only imagine the shock to the system that mandatory installation for first-time offenders would unleash.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Nov 20, 2006 9:49:34 AM

Who is going to pay for this? Obviously there will be a push to impose probation and interlock fees on defendants to increase punishment and/or profit. I believe this is typically the case for existing programs aimed at recidivists. But if the goal is an order of magnitude increase in the number of people on interlock probation, the system starts to run into problems. You're doubling or tripling the cost of a first offense, and putting a lot of people in a position where they're going to end up permanently without a license due to probation violations or inability to pay fees and fines.

Many states are struggling with the problem of dealing with mid-level driving offenses. People get into a cycle of driving under revocation that they can never get out of because each offense puts a license that much farther out of reach. Not driving is simply not an option. Vermont decriminalized driving without a license and police complained that drivers knew they had nothing to lose. Michigan (I think) recently re-criminalized driving without a license and the trial courts saw their already-heavy caseload nearly double.

Posted by: John Carr | Nov 20, 2006 6:44:52 PM

The practicalities of production, it seems to me, would be a short-term issue once one or two big states chose to do such a thing.

As for who is going to pay? In Texas juries have locked up 5th time DWIs for 99 years or LIFE (sentenced as habitual offenders). How much does that cost? And people still drive drunk. Reducing those high sentences and combining interlocks with stronger probation would be cheaper and do more to reduce drunk driving. As with cigarettes, pub ed money on this is also probably well spent by comparison to long prison sentences. Use progressive sanctions and county jail stints for driving other vehicles, etc.

I've sat through several long legislative hearings over the years with expert testimony on different strategies to combat drunk driving, and this one to me seemms like a no-brainer.

On suspended licenses, John, in TX in 2003 we increased DWLS penalties from a Class C (ticketable offense) to a Class B (possible jail time so they must arrest, appoint them a lawyer, etc.). It was a big mistake and the county jails and misdemeanor dockets are filling up with those folks. I'm hoping Texas will move it back to a Class C ticketable offense when the Lege meets next year - it wouldn't be "decriminalized," it'd still be against the law, but the punishment would better fit the crime and it wouldn't unnecessarily fill up the jails. Best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 21, 2006 9:15:38 AM

Other than the enormous financial burden on indigent offenders, I don't have any big objection to using interlock (or other, hopefully more effective, detection devices) on 1st time offenders. In Texas, we already put the interlock on 1st timers whose BAC is over .15, so this wouldn't be a huge step. My issue, as I discuss in my blog post on the topic, is the "next phase" discussed in the NYT article: detection/disabling devices in all vehicles sold in the U.S. Yikes.

Assistant Public Defender, Dallas, Texas

Posted by: Poverty Lawyer 1 | Nov 21, 2006 1:23:21 PM

I think it'd be much cheaper for the state to just pay for them and call it part of the cost of doing business - cheaper than a prison cell, after all. You can't get blood from a stone and if you wanted to use this on indigent first offenders, IMO the state would have to pay for it across the board, or dump the cost on counties, for it to be practical.

Pols are willing to pay for prison beds for DWI and this is cheaper and more effective. It shouldn't be THAT hard a sell.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 21, 2006 1:29:10 PM

This was a well written informative article..The good news is that drunk driving deaths have declined over the last few decades and more and more persons view drinking and driving to be a serious crime.Howto - thank you for your thoughts....It is important to all.

Posted by: newport driving school | Feb 21, 2009 5:08:36 AM

It was a big mistake and the county jails and misdemeanor dockets are filling up with those folks. I'm hoping Texas will move it back to a Class C ticketable offense when the Lege meets next year

Posted by: Traffic School Online | Jan 5, 2010 1:18:47 PM

Yeah, Drinking while driving can be a serious mistake! you may lose your life so it's better not to drink while you got to drive. its always bettr to be safe then to let your right leg in a hole!

Posted by: best online casino | Jan 15, 2010 12:40:16 PM

Not driving is simply not an option. Vermont decriminalized driving without a license and police complained that drivers knew they had nothing to lose.

Posted by: New York Defensive Driving | Feb 26, 2010 12:49:08 AM

some of these comments made me disappointed but i don't want to make it into pointless argument. I really loved the way you made it.

Posted by: Texas Adult Drivers Education | Aug 2, 2010 8:04:12 AM

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