Will Self-Driving Cars Finally Solve the DUI Problem?

The road ahead for automotive technology is pretty clear, at least to silicon valley types: self-driving cars are in our future. And the California DMV just brought the future one step closer by issuing a set of rules for manufacturers who want to test cars on the state’s roads.

self-driving carThat’s right. California, known for its draconian driving regulations, is about to let self-driving cars on its roads. Of course, of the long list of requirements, some are designed to keep tinkerers and garage-based startups out of the running: massive amounts of insurance, a surety bond, and proof of financial responsibility in case the car gets into an accident.

The cars must be labeled as self-driving, much like cars with student drivers. But the most important requirement is that the person in the car is a licensed and fully-capable driver who is “capable of taking over immediate physical control” of the vehicle. California is notoriously hard on drunk drivers, reckless drivers, unlicensed drivers. The state is not about to give self-driving vehicles carte blanche.

Perhaps someday this technology will be so reliable that people who have had too many drinks at a party can hop in their self-driving cars, click a “Get Me Home” button and snooze in the back seat. But it won’t happen for decades, and perhaps never. Remember, self-driving trains (automated people movers, or APMs) have been in existence since the 1960s, but they are not very common; apart from a few subway lines, they are found mostly in airports and amusement parks. Human-populated roadways, moreover, are much more complicated than rails. One needs not only to navigate the roads but fathom the intentions of other drivers, and bear liability for accidents. It’s a lot to ask of a machine.

Incidentally, one of California’s regulations states that the autonomous vehicle test driver has not been “convicted of driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol” for the preceding ten years.

 

10 Facts About Women Drinkers

Women in club or disco drinking cocktailsWomen drinkers are on the rise. In fact, according to health surveys, more women are drinking now than at any time in recent history. In 2010, Gallup pollsters reported that nearly two-thirds of all American women drank regularly, a higher percentage than any other time in twenty-five years. Over the past 15 years, the number of women arrested for drunken driving has risen 30%, while male arrests have dropped nearly 0%.

Recent studies found the following:

  1. According to the Wine Institute, an industry trade group, women buy the lion’s share of the nearly 800 million gallons of wine sold in the U.S. annually—and they are its primary drinkers.
  2. Women absorb alcohol into the bloodstream faster and metabolize it slower than men.
  3. For women, drinking in moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day. (One drink is measured at 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.)
  4. The risk of breast cancer increases as alcohol use increases.
  5. The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
  6. 40% of alcoholic women attempted to commit suicide, compared to 8.8% of non-alcoholic women.
  7. 58.8% of women age 15-44 drank while pregnant.
  8. Girls who start dieting in sixth grade are more likely to engage in alcohol misuse later in life.
  9. Women with eating disorders, especially bulimia, have a greater incidence of alcohol abuse than in the general population.
  10. 40% of women committing violence were perceived by the victim as being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the crime.

MADD Urges More Support for DUI Victim Rights

Capital BuildingThis week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. While one might think that victims have sufficient rights in the US, the truth is that victims still have fewer rights than criminal offenders. The rights of the criminal offenders are protected by the U.S. Constitution. The rights of victims are not. Granted, victim rights laws today are better than they were. In the past, victims were typically denied access to basic information about their offenders’ court cases and even excluded from the judicial process altogether. They did not have to be notified of court proceedings or of the arrest or release of a defendant, they had no right to attend the trial or other proceedings, and they had no right to make a statement to the court at sentencing or at other hearings. In 1981, a group of advocates created the first National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This was to call attention to the victims and their surviving family members. President Reagan created a President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime to assess the situation. They reported a system that was focused on the offender and indifferent to the victim. As a result, in 1984, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) legislation was passed. This was to providing funding for support of victims and to help change the criminal justice system. The report also prompted each state to add victim’s rights language to its constitution. However, currently the US Constitution contains no Victims’ Rights language, whereas there are 23 fundamental rights for someone accused of a crime. Numerous organizations including the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) support such an amendment. A Victims’ Rights Amendment (VRA) was put forward in April of 2013. This amendment delineates rights such as notification of, guaranteed admission to, and the right to speak during the course of legal proceedings including pre-trial release, plea bargains, sentencing and parole. VRA also requires that courts consider victims’ safety when defendants are considered for conditional release. The VRA has raised many concerns. Advocates point to the need to bolster victims’ rights as current statutes are often not enforced. Opponents state that the amendment does not uphold the fundamental ideal of innocence until proven guilty and due process. Time will tell how legislators will craft this amendment and whether it will make it on the ballot in November.

Should Wisconsin DUI Penalties Be Stronger?

Police officer writing ticketWisconsin is the only U.S. state that does not consider a first-time DUI offense a crime. Other states require jail time, counseling, and even an in-car breathalyzer called an ignition interlock to start an offender’s vehicle. Wisconsin simply hands out a ticket.

Yet Wisconsin is infamous for its consumption of alcohol. They claim to be the number 1 binge drinkers in the country. They also have the highest percentage of drinkers per capita. Unfortunately, they also admit to having the most number of drivers under the influence on their roads.

In 2012, Wisconsin had 200 drunk driving fatalities; much higher than the national average. The Wisconsin legislature met just after St. Patrick’s Day to pass a bill clarify the current drunk driving penalties. They required penalties for those drunken drivers who injure someone. They also required prison time of at least three years for those offenders on their seventh, eighth, or ninth conviction.

Yet they did not expand or strengthen the law to address first time offenders or increase penalties for other repeat offenders. The topic is often debated. One concern is the cost of prosecuting. A state analysis concluded last year that making a third drunken-driving conviction a felony would add millions to court and correction costs.

Jim Ott, R-Mequon, has offered up numerous legislative bills to toughen penalties. “We continue to have so many outrageous crashes in Wisconsin,” Ott told The Associated Press in 2012. “Do we just sit back and say ‘we have to live with this’’ or are we going to try and do something?”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been lobbying to bring Wisconsin DUI penalties in line with most other states. Programs that require an ignition interlock device have proven successful in other states. In New Mexico, for instance, DUI fatalities have been reduced by 35% since the state has required that all DUI offenders use an interlock device.

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