Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

   — C.S. Lewis

Offensive beyond words

So I see this morning that the good folks at MADD have announced their latest Utopian idea to prevent drunk driving.

In a bold new effort designed to eradicate one of the nation’s deadliest crimes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) today launched its national Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which aims to literally wipe out drunk driving in the United States.

*  Exploration of advanced vehicle technologies through the establishment of a Blue Ribbon panel of international safety experts to assess the feasibility of a range of technologies that would prevent drunk driving. These technologies must be moderately priced, absolutely reliable, set at the legal BAC limit and unobtrusive to the sober driver;

Proving once again that advocacy organizations sometimes go off the deep end in their obsession with a problem, the above means that they want every single vehicle to have an interlock device to prevent it from starting should the driver be “impaired.”

The first commenter thinks I misunderstood what the devices would be like, since I used the term “interlock.”  I fully understand that this is a passive technology.  That doesn’t change the fact that in engineering terms this device would still be an interlock, which is a device that serves some protective function by disabling the mechanism when certain conditions are observed.

I’m not sure I have words to express my disgust with the idea of being treated like a potential criminal every single time I start my truck!  It offends me on a level that’s difficult to express.

Now before I get a lot of hate mail from the MADD folks who will likely end up here eventually from the good offices of Google as part of their astro-turf campaign, I need to say that I absolutely despise drunk drivers.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to put up with being treated like a potential criminal at every turn and being forced to prove my innocence to go about my daily routine. 

I’m actually the last person who would need an interlock.  I’m usually the designated driver for my friends when we go somewhere.  But MADD would have me treated just the same way as someone who had killed someone by driving drunk and force me to prove my sobriety every time I get in the truck. 

Does anyone else see how offensive this is?  Am I the only one?  Have we become a nation of damn sheep who meekly roll over for whatever “safety” demand that comes forth from whatever advocacy group is the media darling today? 

Real Punishment

If we’re really serious about stopping drunks, we should be concentrating on removing the chronic drunks from the road and making examples of the first-time offenders.  Current law in Texas makes drunk driving a Class B misdemeanor with only a 72-hour minimum confinement.  A Class B misdemeanor carries a maximum jail term of 180 days and/or a fine not to exceed $2,000. 

How about we start getting serious with these jokers?  Maybe a mandatory 6 month sentence for first-time offenders (no parole, no early release, etc), followed by interlocks (I don’t mind interlocks for someone who’s already shown they can’t be trusted).  A second offense gets you two years and permanent loss of license.  Of course, these drunks don’t seem to mind driving without a license, so maybe a third offense is worth 10 years or something. 

My hope is that the threat of real jail time instead of deferred adjudication or other coddling would help a lot.  It certainly addresses the problem WITHOUT treating the innocent as criminals until proven otherwise.

The technology problem

Ok… so let’s say this technology does get pushed on us whether we want it or not.  Just how reliable does it have to be?  MADD claims they want it to be “absolutely reliable, […] and unobtrusive to the sober driver”.  That would appear to me to require 100% reliability.  What do you want to bet that if someone comes up with a 99.5% reliable device that MADD decides that it’s just reliable enough?  What?  You won’t take that bet?  Smart move since we know how these advocacy groups work.

A 99.5% reliability rate means a 00.5% failure rate.  Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  Well, let’s do some hypothetical calculations.  I’m going to base it on my own driving habits, but you can substitute your own numbers if you like. 

First, let’s consider how many times I start my truck per year:
– I generally take one trip per day, every day of the year, which means two starts per day:  365*2 = 730
– I also generally take a second trip at least once per week (grocery runs, etc): 52*2 = 104

So, that comes out to 834 starts per year.  At a 0.5% failure rate, this means that I will be stranded by my truck approximately 4.17 times per year.

Doesn’t sound so good now, does it?  Can I call Glynn Birch (national president of MADD) to come get me each of those 4 times my truck arbitrarily decides not to start each year? 

Note:  For those that would accuse me of attacking a straw man, I will certainly admit that the 99.5% reliability rating is somewhat arbitrary, but I think the argument is still sound.  I work in a technology-based business and I understand the ways in which systems can be flawed.  Making a system that is foolproof and that can stand up to use by hundreds of millions of people without any failures is a very tall order.

Now consider that spread across 133.6 million automobiles (2000 number, see link) and the potential for false positives becomes staggering.  For the sake of argument, lets boost the reliability to 99.99% and assume that those vehicles are solely used for trips to and from work on week days.  Let’s further assume that these drivers get two weeks vacation.

This means that each vehicle is driven on one trip per day, five days per week, for 50 weeks per year.  There will be two starts per trip (one at the beginning of the day and one when leaving work).  So, that’s 5 * 50 * 2 = 500 starts per year per vehicle.  With 133.6 million vehicles, that comes to 66800000000 starts per year (yes, that’s 66.8 billion).  At a failure rate of 0.01%, that comes to 6680000 denied starts per year.  So people will be arbitrarily stranded by their vehicles 6.68 million times per year.

Still think it’s a minor inconvenience and worth the hassle?  After all, it’s always worth it even if it saves just one life?  Right?

Can we all call you for a ride when the system arbitrarily denies us the use of our own property and leaves us stranded?

The friendly camel’s nose

So what’s the big deal, some will say?  Don’t you want to stop drunk driving?  It’s for your own good.  Relax and go with the flow…

The question becomes, “Where does it stop?”  Of course the current advocates of this sort of thing will tell you that you’re being silly and paranoid.  But whenever you propose something like this, it’s best to stop and think for a minute about whether you want to live in a world where this type kind of power is given to your worst enemy.

So let’s say we get nationalized health care.  Will your car measure you against your ideal weight and decide you should walk today?  Is you job nearby and would the busy-body urban planners decide you should walk there? 

Let’s imagine that to combat drive-bys that your car won’t start if it detects gunpowder or a firearm?  How does a law-abiding citizen go to and from the range?  What if you got powder residue on your shoes yesterday during a legal trip to the range?  (Meanwhile the gang-bangers are driving their illegally modified cars to and from their drive-bys…)  Do you have to call the cops to get an override code so you can go to work?  (Prepare to assume the position, as you get treated to a felony stop because you called and mentioned guns and cars.)  What about legal concealed carry?  (Of course if we get this nannified, I guess concealed carry would be right out.)

It doesn’t hurt to consider these things now.  The original proponents of Social Security said that the SSN would never be used for an identifier and that such objections were ill-founded.  I’ve lost track of the number of places that now demand it or they won’t do business with you.

Making enemies

Up until now I’ve regarded MADD as a bit obsessive, but ultimately not worthy of much further thought.  At first I was even with them, since I hate drunk drivers.  But this has gone too far.  If they pursue making this technology mandatory I will make it my mission to vote against any politician that sides with them.  I will boycott any business that supports them.  Whatever it takes to try to stem the tide of statist, intrusive technology into every facet of our lives.

A slow wave of stupidity

I have a very bad feeling about this.

   —Luke Skywalker

Unfortunately, MADD’s announcement that this is a 10-year project is actually a good bit of strategy on their part.  It allows the idea to slowly infiltrate the population.  Combined with a regular drumbeat from the media who will just run MADD press releases as news, people’s defenses will slowly be eroded.  Ultimately, those of us who find it offensive to be treated as criminals until proven innocent may be ground under the swell of popular opinion.  I really do fear that we’ve become a nation of sheep who will accept any level of intrusion for that illusive little bit of extra safety.  It’s hard to maintain opposition over a long term against those who paint you as hating “the children” and being in favor of getting people killed because you won’t support their pet program.  Against all that, liberty is a hard sell.

At times like this I really fear for our Republic.  Forget the Islamofascists.  We’re going to nanny ourselves to death.  We’ll go out not with a bang, but with a soft baby-like whimper.

Coda: Private vs Public actors (added after original post)

One thing that I probably failed to elicuidate in the above is that my concern reflects any legal requirement to include these “passive” devices in vehicles.  If it were strictly a private initiative, such that one could purchase the device as an option and receive an insurance discount, I would be less bothered (although I would still be concerned that it’s the camel’s nose under the tent in furtherance of legal requirements).  Given MADD’s history, I am not sanguine that it would content itself with a market-driven solution, however.

Update:  Some additional reaction to this technology proposal…
Questions to ask MADD before every car has a Breathalyzer
Drunk Until Proven Sober


  1. Don Murray says:

    Unfortunately, you have misunderstood the technology piece of MADD’s recent initiative to eliminate drunk driving. You have inadvertently mixed two strategies. First, it is not MADD’s intent to have ignition interlock devices installed on every car. It is their intent to maximize the use of ignition interloc devices for all convicted drunk drivers. Second, it is also MADD’s intent to promote passive technology that will prevent automobiles from operating with an intoxicated driver behind the wheel. This is PASSIVE technology that will not require the drive to take any action. This is emerging technology and may utilize such things as sensors located within steering wheels or laser beams that will collect information in an instant.

    No one has the right to point a loaded pistol around in a crowd, pulling the trigger from time to time. A drunk driver is a loaded pistol and the bulled it the car he or she commands. No one has the right to jeopardize another’s life. Only those customarily driving while intoxicated should be worried. Those of us who don’t should be grateful.

    Don Murray
    MADD Florida

  2. Wow, you beat out even the Kinky Friedman adherents for the fastest response to one of my postings…  (Blogsearch is a wonderful technology for activists.)

    Sorry, but I’m not buying that.  I fully understood the technology.  But it’s still an interlock device that requires me to prove to the vehicle’s computer that I’m not a criminal before the vehicle starts.  That’s what I find odious and un-American.  What happened to probable cause?  Have we decided that the Constitution is irrelevant now?

    You, of course, are right that no one has the right to point a pistol into a crowd and pull the trigger.  But, at the same time, you do not have the right to demand that I prove that I’m not a criminal every single time I take my gun somewhere. 

    You say I should be grateful?  Sorry if I’m not grateful for the chance to cravenly lick the boot of the state and prove that I’m not a criminal at all times.

  3. queuno says:

    I’m going to have to be the conservative voice of dissent. 

    I think, in general principles, that drunk driving is more dangerous than illegal immigration, and if this country is going to be proactive in getting rid of aliens (which I support), then I see no reason to proactively try to get rid of drunk driving.

    As far as I’m concerned, the furor should be directed at the idiots who drink and drive, not the MADD folks or the government.  I want all drunk driving eliminated.  I don’t care how it gets done.  If the bar owners and the drunks and the social drinkers can’t do it … then yes, I want MADD and the government do it for me.

    I’d rather much ban alcohol, but then you’d really scream.

  4. I can agree with you at directing some furor to those idiots who drive while drunk.  But I cannot support in any way shape or form any law which requires me to prove my innocence without probable cause.  I think some furor is justifiable towards MADD for even proposing such an asinine and anti-American thing.

    As for the idiots who drive drunk, I’m of the lock-em-up and throw away the key school, at least as regards *real drunks*.  Not someone who just had one too many glasses of wine.  Let’s start locking up people who are really drunk while driving and make them examples to others.

    At least let’s give it a try before we start tearing down our cherished civil liberties.

    Oh… and that whole banning alcohol thing has been tried before.  I hope we can all agree that it was an abysmal failure.  But the one thing I can say for the attempt was that at least it was done in the proper manner.  Unlike how we do things today.

  5. Ron Hardin says:

    The deal is : create a “public problem,’’ then take ownership of it.  It’s been repeated a thousand times.  It’s the route to funds and power today, if you’re not actually in the government.

    My impression from Joseph Gusfield’s book on it (_The Culture of Public Problems : Drinking Driving and the Symbolic Order_ ; a rarity, a sociologist who can write) is that drunk driving isn’t particularly dangerous – that is, it’s very very common, a term that nobody divides by.  The drunk driving groups got angry at Gusfield when they realized that he was studying them and not their cause.

    It used to be that drunk driving was a personal moral failing.  It was taken over and converted to a “public problem,’’ and you see the result after 25 years.

    My friend F.T.Grampp : “If it weren’t for the drunks, most of them wouldn’t be mothers.’‘

    I don’t drink at all, myself, so have no interest but the sociological one, on how groups gain power.

  6. Phelps says:

    The problem that I have with mandatory sentences is how spurious a drunk driving conviction can be already.  The legislature has done everything it can to destroy one’s fifth amendment rights (by revoking your license if you refuse to testify against yourself by submitting to a battery of tests, which themselves are of dubious reliability) while groups like MADD work to lower the standards (BAC level) that no one in law enforcement worries about anyway.

    I want drunk driving to stop.  But I don’t want it to stop at the expense of a witchhunt, which is what we have now.

  7. It’s worse than that… some Tarrant county police agencies are now immediately getting warrants to take blood samples if people refuse the breath test.  This is in response to people deciding to go ahead and take the suspension in lieu of the test.

    I would also agree that the lowering of the BAC was a bad idea.  Some interesting comments I saw on another site favored a graduated scale.  If someone was 0.08 to 0.10 they would be treated more leniently (i.e. given a chance to get a ride home, rather than a criminal record) than someone who was 0.10 to 0.15.  That certainly made sense to me as a more reasonable way to handle things.

    Anyhow… as I noted above, I want to throw the book at the *real* drunks who chronically abuse the system by driving without a license after a slap on the wrist for DWI.  It’s much harder to drive if you’re behind bars…

  8. Don Murray says:

    The horse is not yet dead, therefore the beatings shall continue. The assertion that one must prove their innocence by blowing into the ignition Interlock device is still a weak argument. Like yourself, I believe in strong personal freedoms. MADD is seeking legislation that will place these devices ONLY on the vehicles of those individuals who have already demonstrated their inability to respect the lives of others. They have already been convicted of DUI. Interlock Devices will only be placed on those vehicles registered to convicted DUI Offenders, not all vehicles. If you have a demonstrated history of driving drunk, then the Interlock Device is your friend. Rather than having your license revoked, the Interlock device will permit you to continue to legally drive, while sober, to work, the store, school or wherever. This is a much better deal than having your license totally suspended.

    Next topic. The passive technology that will most likely find their way into autos some 20-25 years from now will require nothing at all from the driver except to slip behind the wheel. If you’re drunk, the car simply won’t start. The “loss of personal freedom” argument won’t fly with me becuase no one has the “personal freedom” to endanger the life of another. Good try, though.

    Donald Murray
    MADD Florida State Executive Director

  9. Phelps says:

    Mr. Murray, you are not credible.

    MADD has a long history of incremental intrusion into personal freedom.  Like various other prohibitionists, you attempt to “boil the frog”, as the saying goes.  In fact, you contradict yourself in the very same comment, where you applaud the idea of people being forced to adopt this technology 20-25 years from now.  If you are trying to represent that you think that any auto manufacturer is going to add an intrusive point-of-failure into its vehicle that has zero value to the actual owner of the vehicle without a government requirement, then you are either a liar or a fool.

  10. Don Murray says:

    Mr. Phelps,

    Personal attacks are the tactics of those whose arguments are too weak to stand on their own merits and only devalue whatever point you are attempting to make. You are obviously a bright and atriculate man. Perhaps you’d be willing to exchange ideas and viewpoints without the misdirected venom. Others may then possibly give your opinion more credence.

    MADD is clearly not a prohibitionist organization. Although often accused and attacked, we have absolutely no interest in reducing the consumption of alcohol by adults. Our mission statement is quite clear. To your other point, several months ago, MADD hosted a technology conference in New Mexico at which all the major auto manufacturers of the world were present. I assure you, the technology is on the way.

    Donald Murray
    MADD Florida State Executive Director

  11. For me, the personal freedom argument is paramount.  I have a right to be free of meddlesome interference from the state unless someone can prove that I’m a threat in some form.  Simply getting into my vehicle to drive does not cross that threshold.

    Unfortunately, though, people like yourself are willing to continually push the line until we find outselves in a situation our founders would not recognize as freedom.  But then, you’ve shown that you don’t care about personal freedom our our Constitution.  Rationalize all you want, but it’s this very thing that will eventually destroy our Republic, as we become so wrapped up in rules and regulations that we become unable to do anything.

    Aside from the issue of personal freedom, though, the proposed “passive” devices suffer from a number of issues that would seem to make them impractical, as I’ve outlined in my original posting.

    Since then, though, a couple of other things come to mind.  As to your argument that on one has the personal freedom to drive drunk, I’d submit that you’re wrong, at least as regards private property.  Not that I’d do such a thing, but there is no public interest in someone driving exclusively on his or her own property even if he or she is over the “legal limit” (which some would contend is not the same as being drunk).

    Or, aside from the above, what about an emergency situation where someone who is over whatever arbitrary limit is in place at the time may need to drive to save a life?  Or are the lives of these hypothetical persons to be forfeit?

  12. Phelps says:

    A conference paid for, in large part, by the interlock manufacturers, who are also very large contributors to MADD.  The presence of the manufacturers says absolutely nothing about whether they want to install the devices—it simply says that they expect you to push legislation to require the devices.

    MADD is clearly a prohibitionist organization.  BAC levels that were “reasonable” to MADD in the 80s became unreasonable in the 90s, after MADD had gotten them to be ubiquitous.  At that point, the reasonable-until-enacted levels were too high, and had to be lowered again.  MADD spokespeople and MADD ad campaigns have endorsed the mantra that any alcohol consumption is unsafe for driving.  These are the stands of a prohibitionist organization masquerading as a safty organization.

  13. Don Murray says:

    Mr. Phelps and Mr. Turner,

    Spirited discussion! Different opinions! You’ve done a great job of expressing your views. It’s time to note that we are no longer discussing facts but rather philosophies, personal interpretations and politics, to which we are all entitled. These are the types of discussions that rarely end with concensus and often end in frustration. “Why can’t that idiot understand?” While I may not agree with all that you believe, I absolutely respect your right to believe it.

    If we shifted subjects, I suspect we could find many topics upon which we would agree.  Aubrey, thanks for a great forum. Mr. Phelps, thanks for guarding our freedoms with such passion. I’ll be watching! Heck, who knows, maybe we’ll meet in some tiki bar somewhere in the Florida Keys, someday and you both can buy me a beer.

    Don Murray
    MADD Florida State Executive Director