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typical-drunk-driver

We, of course, would never drive drunk. We don’t hold with drunk driving, and would not let our friends drive drunk either.

But somehow, millions do just that.

Millions? If that sounds extreme, you might be thinking of the 10,000 people who die each year as a result of impaired driving. But the number of people injured is much greater than that. And even that larger tally does not tell us how many drunk drivers are actually out there.

In 2015 1.1 million people were arrested for DUI. A frightening number, but remember that only a small percentage of drunk drivers are arrested. According to the CDC, there were 111 million self-reported drunk driving episodes that year.

So, impaired drivers are all over. But who is the typical drunk driver? According to the most recent report by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, the typical drunk driver is:

  • Young. Apparently wisdom does come with age, at least as far as impaired driving goes. TIRF found that the likelihood of a person admitting to driving while under the influenced decreased almost 34 percent for every 10 years in age.
  • Male. The odds of a male admitting to driving drunk were more than 150% greater than for females. This jibes with arrest statistics.
  • Violators. Drivers who had two or more traffic violations on their record in the last year had a whopping 757 percent greater likelihood of driving impaired versus those who had one or no tickets.

None of this was exactly top-secret before reports came out, but the research is solid: to reduce drunk driving, get young males, particularly ones with bad driving records, to change their behavior.

Ignition interlock programs are one way of doing just that: because they prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, they can help any driver – young, old, male, female – learn to drive responsibly.

Other methods have helped too. Efforts to target that particular group with advertising have occasionally led to controversy, but in general we’ve come a long way from the old days and know our target market better now.

But advertising has its limits, and ignition interlocks are only for offenders who have been caught. Road safety advocates need to keep working on ways to address the problem of the young, aggressive, risk-taking male. If they don’t, the roads will continue to be dangerous for everyone.

4 previous DUIs merits 48 year sentenceWhat is the purpose of punishing a drunk driver? Often it’s rehabilitation – if an offender can see the recklessness of the decision to drink and drive, he or she might change and start to drive responsibly.

For that reason, DUI sentences usually include an educational element – a DUI class, evaluation, or counseling. They also include a preventive element –an ignition interlock, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The latter is used because it’s well known that many drunk drivers reoffend, and an interlock device is a wise measure.

Occasionally, a drunk driving offender comes along who seems to merit measures that go beyond rehabilitation. Such was the case with Scott Woodington of Tucson, who was found guilty of aggravated DUI for causing the death of motorcyclist Amy Hill while drunk.

Woodington received a prison sentence of 48 years.

There were plenty of chances for rehab in the past. Woodington already had 4 previous DUIs on his record when he struck Hill. According to Arizona law, he would have paid fines, spent time in jail, and even had a period with an ignition interlock. Apparently nothing “took,” and in 2015 this DUI recidivist caused the death of an innocent person.

The Purposes of Punishment

In criminal law, the purposes of punishment are given as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.

Of these, two do not apply in this case:

  • Rehabilitation – while the offender may seek help and even deal successfully with his alcohol problem, that was not the purpose of such a long sentence.
  • Restitution – in many cases a defendant pays the victim for harm caused, but there is no real restitution possible for loss of life.

The others do apply.

  • Deterrence – it’s possible that someone with a tendency to drive drunk will learn of this sentence and get help.
  • Retribution – the state has assured the family and friends of thevictim that justice has been done, and they do not have to seek personal vengeance to balance the scales.

And finally:

  • Incapacitation – this was probably the most compelling reason for a sentence just short of a half-century. The man in question will not be able to drive drunk again.

Was this the best way to do things? Probably. Sentences of this magnitude are rare, even for DUI homicide. Had the defendant not had 4 previous DUIs, and thus shown a complete unwillingness to change his ways in years past, the sentence might have been lighter. But in this case, incapacitation ruled the day.

auto-brewery syndromeEvery once in a while a news story circulates about a person who was pulled over for drunk driving, tested, and found to be over the legal intoxication limit – despite having had nothing to drink.

The offender in question was a victim of auto-brewery syndrome, a rare medical condition in which food in one’s digestive system ferments and turns into alcohol, causing drunkenness.

The resulting buzz is no different from the one gained from a six-pack of beer or a couple of Margaritas, unfortunately. The legal question raised is whether a person who suffers from this should be arrested for DUI.

There are cases in which a DUI charge has been dismissed after a judge is presented with evidence of auto-brewery syndrome. It’s a sketchy legal area, because a person who has alcohol in his or her system – sometimes a large amount – is still dangerous on the road, even if that person did not intentionally take a drink before driving.

The Not-So-Sweet Side of Sugar

The syndrome works by combining yeast in the gut with sugars that have been eaten – not just sugar per se, but also the kind of sugars found when starches such as bread and pasta are broken down by the body. The sugars feed the yeast’s fermentation process – essentially the same process that goes on at your local brewery  or winery – and turn into alcohol.

For that reason, people with the syndrome are advised to keep to a very low-carbohydrate diet.

Auto-Brewery Syndrome: A Free Pass for DUI?

It’s only been in the last few years that some courts have accepted auto-brewery syndrome as a real disease, but what is agreed upon is that it’s rare. Chances are very, very good that a person who is arrested with a blood alcohol concentration over the limit, and who claims not to have had a drink, is not a victim of the disease – at least not auto-brewery syndrome. They are most likely DUI, and will be treated as such by the courts.

arizona-toughest-dui-lawsThe stakes are high in the competition to end drunk driving. Lives hang in the balance, as a matter of fact. For this reason, we need to single out states that do a good job keeping drunk drivers off the road.

That’s what the website WalletHub does each year. Last week it released its annual ranking of Strictest and Most Lenient states on DUI.

Arizona took top honors, with a score of 84 percent (by contrast South Dakota, the biggest loser, scored about 20 percent). Arizona made top spot last year as well. This year the margin was comfortable: Georgia, the runner-up, scored just 70 percent.

How DUI Prevention Measures are  Scored

WalletHub’s scoring is very sensibly based on two main factors: criminal penalties and prevention. With a 10-day minimum jail sentence for the first offense,  Arizona is by far the toughest on first DUI offenders. The state doesn’t impose the longest suspensions or the longest jail terms for second offenses, but 10 days in jail for a first offense really gets a person’s attention.

Other factors taken into account are the “lookback period” – the length of time before an old DUI is no longer counted for figuring multiple offenses. Arizona’s is 7 years, which was once normal, but now on the low side. 10 and 15-year lookbacks are now common, and the only direction lawmakers are going with this is the longer one.

The report also considered how many offenses it takes before drunk driving becomes a felony, and is eligible for much more severe fines and imprisonment. The third offense is most common for Felony DUI, though four states now make a second DUI a felony.

Other measures were also ranked, including

  • How high the fines imposed for DUI are
  • Extra penalties for high-BAC (blood alcohol concentration) DUI
  • Mandatory ignition interlock (most points for interlocks on first offense)
  • Immediate (administrative) license suspension upon arrest
  • Length of ignition interlock term
  • Vehicle impound

Arizona might not have scored the highest on all of these factors, but they did score high on most of them, proving that their anti-DUI efforts are strong and praiseworthy.  Hats off to Arizona for keeping up the fight, and for WalletHub for keeping score in this vital effort to save lives on the road.

ignition interlock for repeat DUI offenders“Ignition interlocks achieve what license suspension cannot,” says a recent email from MADD to its supporters. “They separate drinking from driving.”

Now MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving – is starting a push to bring ignition interlocks to all drunk driving offenders – repeat DUI offenders and first-time drunk drivers – in every US state.  Right now 30 states have such laws.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

10th, 11th, 12th DUI Offense? Do a Google Search!

According to MADD – and this is easily verifiable – a Google search for “10th drunk driving offender” will turn up many hits. The reason is that the first recourse for states in the fight against drunk driving is an inadequate one: license suspension. Certainly a drunk driver deserves to have his or her license pulled. But doing so is no guarantee that the offender won’t get back behind the wheel while drunk.

Ignition interlocks are the only measure that actually prevents drunk drivers from taking to the road. The must give a breath sample before they can start a vehicle, and must re-take the breath test at intervals while driving, to demonstrate that they didn’t start drinking after starting up. That’s what makes the devices so effective against repeat DUI offenders.

Test results are logged and handed to monitors to ensure that anyone who is violating the terms of the ignition interlock program can face consequences.

Those who want to further the cause of road safety can help by donating to MADD’s “$50 for 50 States” campaign.

It began in the mid-2000s. Nevada and Arizona started something that is still sweeping the country. They mandated ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, including first offenses.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Other states had been adopting the device since the 1990s to keep convicted drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, but the device was seen as a last resort, appropriate for serial offenders. Perceptive legislators in Arizona and Nevada realized that mandating the device for all offenders would bring down alcohol-related fatality rates, and they were right. In some cases the rates plummeted.

Other state legislators took notice, and today 30 states have made the devices available for any convicted drunk driver. The devices allow the offender to regain driving privileges without the risk of letting a drunk driver on the road.

North Carolina is among the states that has not yet hopped on board. Ignition interlocks are only required for multiple DWI offenders, or first offenders who are found to have a very high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) – .15 or greater. While it’s important that multiple offenders and “super-drunk” drivers have an ignition interlock installed, the 30 states that require the interlock device for every DWI offender have it right.

North Carolina DWI Laws Need to Change

The roads and streets of North Carolina would be safer if the North Carolina DWI law specified:

  • Mandatory ignition interlock for all DWI offenders with a BAC of .08 or greater
  • The interlock device should be available upon arrest – in other words, before trial.
  • An indigent fund should exist to help pay for interlocks for those who cannot pay themselves
  • There should be compliance-based removal: the device is not removed unless the offender has passed a given amount of time (we propose 4 months) without a failed test. This ensures that he or she is able to drive responsibly.

There is no cure-all for drunk driving, but there are strategies that have been proven to save lives, and an all-offender ignition interlock law is among the best. Citizens who value public safety in North Carolina should let their legislators know that they want their state to join the national trend that is taking drunk drivers off the roads.

kombucha alcohol duiKombucha has had two bursts of fame in recent days.  First, for becoming a popular social drink (and thus big business) in the U.S. after about 1900 years as an obscure Japanese health tonic. Second, for the revelation that drinking it can cause one to register a fail on a breathalyzer, alcohol monitor or ignition interlock.

The second flurry of publicity stems from the DUI arrest of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd, whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was recorded at .044 by his alcohol monitoring device. Floyd claimed that he was drinking kombucha and did not realize that it contained alcohol.

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink; the fermentation process produces alcohol. Some brands have very little of it, but others have about half the kick of beer, so much that stores are cautious about selling the stuff to minors.

Not everyone buys Floyd’s explanation, and in truth it does sound as if Floyd was really chugging down the kombucha in order to reach that high a BAC. But most of us do not have the NFL and the sports press breathing down our necks – we just want to know if having a bottle of kombucha in the cup holder can land us in jail.

Beware the breath

The truth is, even if kombucha alcohol can’t land you in jail, it could easily get you as far as the police station. If it’s fermenting, just drinking it could turn your mouth into a mini-brewery. So, for that matter, could fruit juice or even bread, which contains yeast. You could easily take a swig of kombucha and send a breathalyzer off the charts. Once a blood test was done you’d be exonerated, but no one would want to let it get that far.

This video demonstrates how kombucha alcohol in the mouth can cause a deceptively high BAC rating. Moreover, if you brew your kombucha at home, it will be unpasteurized, so the fermentation can continue and raise the alcohol content.

It goes without saying that if you have an ignition interlock installed in your vehicle, you should avoid kombucha when driving, and rinse out your mouth well if you’ve been drinking it that day. Ignition interlocks are designed to react to alcohol, so they’ll register the contents of your mouth as well as your system – it all exits through the breath.

Whether kombucha benefits the health is a question for medical experts. It’s proven beyond doubt, though, that drinking it can be bad for your breathalyzer results. So be warned.

darkness from NC drunk driver

Darkness courtesy of NC drunk driver

We often look at the damage drunk drivers do in terms of themselves – they get killed and injured – and others. And impaired driving is responsible for some 10,000 deaths each year, and 290,000 injuries – that’s an injury every two minutes.

But the decision to drink and drive can cost us in other ways. Taxes are higher because law enforcement, the courts, and prisons come into play when people drive drunk. And there is the cost of property – not just cars, but road signs, guard rails, houses, and other structures that stand in the way of vehicles piloted by drunk drivers.

Light poles are a common target. In Winston-Salem recently some 2,300 people were de-electrified thanks to the decision of a motorist to get behind the wheel after drinking. And this type of crash is not as rare as you might think. A year ago in Clayton, a similar crash put a thousand homes in the dark.

There are costs to power outages beyond missing a TV show. Food gets spoiled. Some people lose money because they are unable to work, or their business premises are unable to function.

But people who aren’t swayed by the thought of injury and death – their own or someone else’s – aren’t going to worry about electric power for a neighborhood. That is why North Carolina will need to keep the pressure on drunk drivers through laws. One way it could reduce the chances of mishaps like this would be to enact a law requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more. Currently the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are only mandated for first offenses if the BAC is .15 or higher.

Repeat DWI offenders don’t think about the consequences of their actions, so we need to, through laws and technology that’s been proven to work. We can’t catch every NC drunk driver before he or she breaks the law, but we’re far from powerless.

Once again, the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has released numbers of Arizona DUI arrests for the July 4th weekend.

The totals are pretty breathtaking. In the period between Thursday, June 29th and Independence Day, police conducted some 16,000 traffic stops. The stops resulted in 539 Arizona DUI arrests.

Arrest numbers can mean different things, depending on your view. It appears that Arizona police found a drunk driver for every 21 traffic stops they made. That seems pretty steep, but presumably those 21 drivers were not a random sampling – they were pulled over because of some other behavior. So we don’t know exactly what proportion of Arizona’s 5 million drivers were impaired and behind the wheel during those 5 days.

What we do know is this:

  • 539 people were unaware or unconcerned that drunk driving is a criminal offense in Arizona. Even a first offense can get them 10 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. There are other costs too: jail costs, and a mandatory ignition interlock on their vehicle for one year.
  • 148 people were arrested for extreme DUI, meaning a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 1.5 or more. These people were apparently unaware or unconcerned that even a first extreme DUI merits 30 days in jail almost $2,800 in fines, mandatory screening and counseling, and an ignition interlock. If any of those were repeat extreme DUIs, they will be in for even stiffer penalties.
  • 539 Arizonans did not seem to care that alcohol, which depresses the central nervous system, compromised their judgment, slowed their reaction time, impaired their vision and hearing, and made it much more likely that they would get in a collision. In fact, a UC San Diego study found that even a small amount of alcohol in a driver’s system – a BAC of .01 – made it 46 percent more likely that that driver would be blamed for a collision.

And those 539 Arizonans did not seem to care that more than 250 people in the state, and some 10,000 people in the country, die each year as a result of someone’s decision to drink and drive. Fortunately, a lot of Arizonans do, and they’ll continue to support efforts like those of Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to take drunk drivers off the road.

july-4th-trip

Happy Independence Day. We at Monitech Ignition Interlock work every day to ensure that all of you get safely to your holiday destination – and back – by preventing drunk drivers from taking to the roads.

Please help us by doing the same. If you see someone attempting to drink and drive, please do what you can to make sure it doesn’t happen. There’s no holiday from safe driving, ever.

Enjoy your July 4th trip. See you on the 5th, safe and sound.

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