WASHINGTON – Today the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a restaurant trade association representing over 8,000 of America’s favorite family restaurants, urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and local law enforcement agencies to focus their annual Labor Day “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign on the hardcore drunk drivers who cause the vast majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Unfortunately, NHTSA’s campaign focuses on the development of alcohol detection devices for mandatory installation in all cars and the increased use of sobriety checkpoints, which targets all driving Americans rather than dangerous drunk drivers.
Earlier this month, NHTSA asked the CEOs of major automakers for millions of dollars in additional funding for the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program. The research program is a joint venture between the federal government and automakers working to develop alcohol detection devices that NHTSA has stated are meant to be installed in all new cars—as soon as five years from now. The researcher in charge of the program has also admitted that the devices will have to be set below the current .08 percent BAC legal limit for legal and liability reasons.
“Drinking a small amount of alcohol before driving is a safe and legal activity. DADSS supporters claim the alcohol detectors would be voluntary and set at .08, but there is a growing mountain of evidence showing that their true goal is to put alcohol sensing technology in all cars as original equipment, set well below the .08 level,” said ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell.
ABI also urges NHTSA to reconsider the other major facet of its Labor Day campaign—the promotion of sobriety checkpoints. Instead, ABI encourages police to employ roving patrols – during which police patrol the streets and highways looking for erratic drivers – because they are more effective than checkpoints.
“Sobriety checkpoints have been proven ineffective at stopping drunk drivers,” said Longwell. “Roadblocks target moderate drinkers or those who have had nothing to drink instead of the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem—hard core alcohol abusers. Roving patrols can target drunk drivers as well as distracted, speeding, and drowsy drivers.”
The average BAC of a drunk driver in a fatal crash is .18% — that’s double the legal limit. Because checkpoints are highly visible by design and publicized in advance, they are easily avoided by the chronic drunk drivers who cause the majority of alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities.
A 2009 University of Maryland study found that checkpoints don’t have “any impact on public perceptions, driver behaviors, or alcohol-related crashes, police citations for impaired driving, and public perceptions of alcohol-impaired driving risk.” NHTSA itself has reported that after reviewing checkpoint programs in several states “changes in awareness, perceptions, and self-reported behavior did not occur.” Additionally, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “typically, sobriety checkpoints do not yield a large volume of DUI arrests.”
“Having a beer at a baseball game or a cocktail at an end-of-summer barbeque is perfectly safe and legal,” Longwell continued. “Police tactics should focus on stopping dangerous drunk drivers, not moderate and responsible drinkers.”