MADDened

Radley Balko lets fly at Obama’s worst appointment idea — heading NHTSA with the head of MADD.

Longtime automotive writer Eric Peters wrote recently in the Detroit Free Press that motorists have much to fear from a Hurley-led NHTSA, including a possible return to federally-mandated speed limits, a national blood alcohol count as low as .04, federally-mandated speed and red light cameras, and even the installation of GPS responders on vehicles for the possible implementation of future “pay as you go” driving taxes (Britain already keeps tabs on the whereabouts of every driver in the country).

But Hurley’s record is most troubling when it comes to overly aggressive measures allegedly aimed at preventing drunken driving. MADD’s top priority during Hurley’s stint as CEO was to get state legislatures to pass laws mandating ignition interlock devices in the cars of all first-time DWI offenders. The device requires you to blow into a tube before starting your car, then blow again at set intervals as you’re driving (which, come to think of it, doesn’t really seem all that safe). Under Hurley’s watch, MADD gave a “qualified endorsement” for bills in the New York and New Mexico legislatures that would have required the devices in all cars sold in those states. Fortunately, neither bill became law.

Hurley and MADD were also at the heart of the effort to force the states to adopt the .08 minimum blood alcohol standard back in the late 1990s, under penalty of losing federal highway funds for noncompliance. Studies show that both significant impairment and most DWI fatalities occur at much higher blood-alcohol concentrations.

Hurley has also aggressively pushed for the use of constitutionally-dubious roadblock sobriety checkpoints to enforce the new standard, even though there’s convincing evidence these invasive tactics have actually made the roads more dangerous. DWI deaths began inching upward again as the roadblocks were implemented in the early 2000s. It isn’t difficult to see why. Roadblocks are designed to catch motorists who aren’t driving erratically enough to be caught with conventional law enforcement methods. The officers who staff them would otherwise be out on the streets, looking for actual drunks who pose an actual threat to highway safety.

By far, MADD’s worst policy is that they endorse imprisoning parents who have supervised parties for their kids. MADD would apparently prefer that kids get drunk like kids in my generation did — in the middle of nowhere right before getting in a car.

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