Saturday, November 25, 2006

The New York Times and driving regulation 

The New York Times is endorsing the latest privacy-invading idea from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, breathalizer "interlocks" that require drivers to blow into a tube before they can start their car. For the moment, MADD is proposing that these devices only be required in cars to be driven by people with a DUI conviction, but it is an obvious ploy to require them in every car. Rental car companies will need to install them so that DUI convicts can rent cars and families with a DUI convict will find it very inconvenient not to have them in every car they buy. Pretty soon, we'll all be blowing into tubes before we can start our engines.

The slippery-slope to ultra safety is not a paranoid fantasy. It is obvious that driver breathalizer interlocks are only the first step for the safety-Nazis and their friends on the Times editorial board:

For the future, safety advocates hope to develop passive devices that unobtrusively test all drivers for alcohol, without requiring every soccer mom to blow into a tube every time she gets into a car. Even better would be devices that flash warnings and slow cars at any sign of erratic driving, whether the cause be drink, distraction, fatigue, recklessness or sheer incompetence.

There are all sorts of problems with requiring interlocks in all cars, starting with this: It is a very intrusive intervention to solve a problem that is of diminishing significance to the public health. Current regulation and enforcement (which we owe to MADD), has reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities from roughly 26,000 per year to less than 17,000 and from 60% to 39% of all traffic fatalities, and that during a time when all driving has become tremendous safer. While 17,000 deaths sounds like a lot, it is a drop in the bucket for a country that has more than 130,000,000 automobiles and which drives well over 1.5 billion vehicle miles per year. The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities is now roughly comparable to deaths from liver cancer, a middling cancer which causes only 3% of all cancer deaths. Thanks to MADD, we have reached the point of diminishing returns in the regulation of drunk driving.

It is not even clear that we should require interlocks even if it were free to do so. It is not hard to imagine situations in which it would be a reasonable risk to drive a car even if one's blood alcohol limit is over the legal limit. Three men go camping in the woods, and they all have a few beers because they assume that they will not be driving again until the next morning. One of them suffers a heart attack, so they drive him out of the woods to a hospital and save his life. In a MADD world, the man would die. A purist would argue, of course, that one of them should have avoided alcohol so as to hedge against just that eventuality, but what if the designated driver had the heart attack? I can envision enough situations like that to be against breathalizer interlocks.

The Times claims that it would be "even better" to have devices that "slow cars at any sign of erratic driving, whether the cause be drink, distraction, fatigue, recklessness or sheer incompetence." Huh? With all the incompetent driving in my home state, in the Grey Nanny's preferred alternative universe the Garden State Parkway would slow to a crawl on a Sunday morning. And what about the scary risk in a car that suddenly slows down because it arbitrarily decides I'm "erratic" when I'm passing some blue-hair on a two-lane rural highway? This, gentle reader, is the asinine future envisioned by the semi-official mouthpiece of blue state liberalism.

Yes, drunk driving is an emotionally challenging public health problem and I suppose I might feel differently about it if I had ever been close to somebody killed while driving drunk or because somebody else was. However, the law enforcement we have now works. According to MADD's own statistics, drunk driving fatalities have plummeted in both absolute terms and as a percentage of all traffic fatalities during the last quarter century. Yes, I am sure they can be reduced further, but at what cost to our wallets and our liberty? We should keep doing what we are doing, but we should not disable all automobiles just to reduce further the miniscule number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. And if the problem is "erratic" or incompetent driving, how about handing out some tickets to the inconsiderate people who drive below the pace of traffic in the left goddamned lane?


By Blogger Andrewdb, at Sat Nov 25, 12:29:00 PM:

Forgive my far-west prejudice, but I will begin to listen to the opinions of Manhatten-ites on vehicle safety after they actually begin to own cars in large numbers.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Nov 25, 02:07:00 PM:

Good point. It's easy to cry about safety and regulation when it doesn't affect you.  

By Blogger SR, at Sat Nov 25, 02:13:00 PM:

Not too many quibbles, however, misleading statements suggesting that alcohol related fatalaties
are diminishing doesn't fully describe the picture that includes the fact that nearly all serious motor vehicle-related injuries coming through my emergency room
are alcohol related in some way. I don't drive after drinking, however, so I surely don't want my car starter to be blocked by a brethalyzer.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 25, 02:57:00 PM:

Make cops and judges blow into one before they report for duty.

Make people submit to blood tests for cholesterol and heart related illnesses before eating at McD's or digging into the next bag of fritos, verify means of support, a lack of an addictin history, and other tests for fitness or make pushing out the next kid a serious crime ... where does it end?  

By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Sat Nov 25, 03:41:00 PM:

Ecuse me but did,nt they try that once before?  

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