Has MADD Gone Completely Insane?

Next week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that is described as technology that can help eliminate drunk driving by “turning cars into the cure” through the development of advanced alcohol detection technology. This technology is known as Ignition Interlock Devices (IID).  MADD is calling this bill “life-saving.” MADD suggests that it is working to “turn cars into the cure” by supporting advanced alcohol detection technology which will one day allow cars to determine...


Next week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that is described as technology that can help eliminate drunk driving by “turning cars into the cure” through the development of advanced alcohol detection technology. This technology is known as Ignition Interlock Devices (IID).  MADD is calling this bill “life-saving.”MADD suggests that it is working to “turn cars into the cure” by supporting advanced alcohol detection technology which will one day allow cars to determine if the driver is drunk.  If the driver’s BAC is at or above .08, the car won’t start.  This also implies that if the driver’s BAC ever rises above .08, the power and electricity to the vehicle will be cut. MADD’s justification and support of this bill relies upon the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimate that this technology “could” save over 8,000 lives per year.

While I doubt anyone can argue with the desire of MADD to help curb drunk driving, their methods and rhetoric are unsound, dangerous, and lead to drumming up support for idea’s that will likely have disastrous consequences.  How ignorant is MADD to believe that a device in a car is a “cure” for something that only extensive treatment, possible medical intervention, and social education can truly cure?  Furthermore, this bill perpetuates the belief that a person is drunk at a .08 which is not supported by research.  Considering the state of the automotive industry being in a state of financial recovery right now, does it make good sense in terms of resources  for MADD to push for additional financial and technological burdens on automotive industry currently on life support  No.  The cure is neither a device, nor a “smart” car, the cure rests in education and good personal decisions made by each and every individual driver on the road.

Considering the fact that Toyota cannot get the basic concept of “brake-pedal-means-stop” and “gas-pedal-means-go,” in their most basic of  models, and has recently just recalled their Lexus models to fix and refine other more advanced technology, how can we expect them and other automakers to get this technology right? Imagine the potential recalls and malfunctions with a mandate to install IIDs?

Better yet, imagine the additional risk imposed by MADD’s bill:  While MADD estimates it will save 8000 lives, how many accidents will there be due to people trying to blow while driving? The device requires random breath samples while driving at any speed, it requires looking at the device, blowing in a specified manner, looking to check to see if it requires another sample and a look at whether the driver passed. Talk about impaired driving.

Recent legislation on cell phones and driving has indicated that distracted driving is dangerous, but this proposed device is even more hazardous. A responsible approach for MADD would be to research these possible consequences before launching a campaign for IIDs.  MADD, in their quest, forgets that the practical use of this device will likely endanger and kill just as many people as DUI drivers by replacing them with drives that are equally “impaired” via use, or attempted use of this device.  Impairment of one’s ability to multitask through any means, alcohol or addition demands on limited ability to divide attention increases the chances of crashing into others.

If MADD really wants to reduce death rates, eliminate car travel and save 50,000 lives per year, why stop at 8,000?  Perhaps MADD should support legislation to install ‘speed regulators,’ limiting the maximum speed of all vehicle to 25 mph.  Think of how many lives we could save by ‘eliminating’ speeding?

Drunk driving is a symptom of personal and social problems. Mandatory IIDs will not solve the root of problem, it will only band aid the symptom.  It will create more problems and more litigation and increase the overall cost.  Even if this bill were to pass, it will take some time to get it into each new vehicle by the manufacturer.  .  .    unless everybody goes out and buys a new car immediately.  Historical car purchase trends show that this will not happen.  Assuming so, is the next legislative fix going to be a mandate that ALL cars be fitted with the interlock device, too?  What if you can’t afford it?  Why are those who don’t drink painted with the same technological brush?  What about asthmatics who can’t make the device work?  What about improper calibration and reliance on the technology:?  How about the driver who drinks to above a .08 and the device reads it low and allows them to drive and a death occurs?  Will MADD call for the person’s head, or will they willingly bear the costs associated with litigation that is sure to follow?

While the goal of reduced DUI and DUI accidents, is admirable, the ends should not justify the means otherwise, the results are sure to be catastrophic – 250,000,000 or so are to be saddled with the cost of maintaining, and or installing the devices; devices that currently and regularly screw up the car’s electronic functions, and render the car inoperable, devices that require EVRYONE to blow every day, several times a day to keep the car running?  What about those driver’s that fail the test?  Will there be a report to “Big Brother?”  Will there be a law and punishment for failure? Will there be a law against tampering, or trying to defeat the device?  How will such IID related crimes be enforced?  The potential questions and problems is endless.

Those who are familiar with the device don’t know that the technology is not very good nor is it accurate and there are false positives all too often.  Consider all the things we currently do before we get our cars, or during or time in our cars that will affect the device and ultimately cease: mouthwash, aftershave, eating in our cars, sweetened latte’s, fueling our cars and spilling so there are now fumes, all of these things are a very small list of all of the things known to create which create interference with the device and keep a person from moving. Things that you actually use in your car like windshield washer fluid that contains ethylene glycol (antifreeze) fumes are sucked onto the cars ventilations system connected to the device is an example of a false positive that interferes.

In Washington, those charged with a Minor DUI, or adult .08 DUI are already subject to an IID pursuant to a Department of Licensing suspension, and anyone convicted is required to have an IID for a minimum 1 years, 5 years for a second DUI conviction and 10 years for a third DUI conviction.  Here in Washington the people who MADD targets are already subjected to mandatory IID on ANY vehicle they drive and these DUI penalties and requirements for Washington DUI is becoming even more restrictive in January 2011.

As previously stated, no one can argue that DUI is a good thing, and MADD has done an exceptional job of making drivers aware at a national level, but this current proposal is emotionally driven legislation and is insane.  The proposed legislation will only create more problems than it seeks to prevent.

Until drivers take personal responsibility for the safety of themselves and other drivers we cannot legislate away DUI.  Currently, in Washington, consumption of alcohol and then driving a vehicle is NOT a crime per se.  Rather, the State DUI law recognizes the personal decision making ability of its citizens and sets a clear limit.  Regardless of what your opinion of the limit is, everyone has a choice.  The problem, however, is that the technology used to measure the blood alcohol content is woefully inadequate and over estimates subjects breath alcohol concentration, and alcohol consumption impacts a person’s judgment and the decision to drive or not drive is impacted.  Like any privilege bestowed upon us, consumption of alcohol needs to be done in a responsible manner with full knowledge of risks and consequences.