CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

DUI Checkpoints and Unlicensed Drivers

I’m glad this letter, by David Ragland and Phyllis Orrick of UC-Berkeley’s TSC, appeared recently in the New York Times. I had just seen something on PBS’ News Hour (by Lowell Bergman, of all people) that was framed to essentially make it sound as if California’s aggressive DUI checkpoints were merely depriving hard-working (and albeit not here legally) immigrants of their automobiles, and serving no other larger public safety purpose (just another “revenue grab” by states and municipalities).

Unlicensed Drivers: A View From California

Published: February 22, 2010

To the Editor:

Re “Unlicensed Drivers Are Caught in Net for Drunken Ones, and Lose Their Cars” (Bay Area section, Feb. 14), about California’s sobriety checkpoints:

There is nothing wrong if sobriety checkpoints find people who are “only” driving without a license.

According to “Unlicensed to Kill,” a definitive study of the problem published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, from 1993 to 1999, an average of a little more than 8,000 people were killed each year in driving-without-a-license crashes. That’s 20 percent of all fatal crashes. (By comparison, D.W.I. drivers are involved in 32 percent.)

Compared with licensed drivers, unlicensed drivers are 4.9 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash; 3.7 times more likely to drive while impaired; and 4.4 times more likely to be in hit-and-run crashes.

Studies have shown that checkpoints help remove unlicensed drivers from the road and save lives. That is why our center applied to help administer the grants for the California program. We recognize the importance of balancing personal freedom with enforcement of rules to protect the public’s health. That is why it is so crucial that people understand the seriousness of driving without a license.

D.W.L. is a huge problem, and one that is growing. It’s time we raised public awareness and did the same for D.W.L. that Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others did for D.W.I.

David R. Ragland
Phyllis Orrick
Berkeley, Calif., Feb. 18, 2010

Which isn’t to say there aren’t some problems with the checkpoints and the larger traffic justice system. For example:

California law allows police to impound the cars of unlicensed drivers for 30 days if they endanger public safety. But at some checkpoints witnessed by reporters, the seized vehicles appeared just fine. And while getting unlicensed – typically uninsured – motorists off the road is worthwhile, the punishment is out of whack with the crime, especially when DUI suspects typically don’t lose their cars.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]

This entry was posted on Monday, March 1st, 2010 at 2:27 pm and is filed under Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “DUI Checkpoints and Unlicensed Drivers”

  1. Dbratland Says:

    They don’t lose their cars, do they? They only have them impounded for a mere 30 days. Seems rather lenient to return the car at all to a person with no license.

  2. MikeOnBike Says:

    The question is *which* unlicensed drivers. The letter assumes all unlicensed drivers as a class are uniformly more dangerous than licensed drivers.

    I’ve read elsewhere (sorry, don’t recall the reference) that unlicensed illegal aliens can be safer drivers than usual, because a collision could lead to them having to leave the country. They’re more motivated than the average driver to avoid crashing.

    It might be helpful to know *why* a particular driver is unlicensed, and subdivide the statistics along those lines.

  3. Michaelk42 Says:

    I think I’ll be happy to give up random “checkpoints” period and keep my Fourth Amendment rights, thanks.

    There’s a lot of things you COULD do that would possibly result in a marginal increase in safety, but the costs to our rights aren’t worth it. The last thing we need is more MADD zealotry.

  4. Jeff G Says:

    MikeOnBike,

    No kidding–are they unlicensed because they lost their license, or because they are not eligible for one due to being immigrants?

  5. TomL Says:

    The NY Times and the Insurance Research Council estimate 25% of drivers in California are uninsured. I am willing to bet that a very high percentage (50%? 60%? 80%?) of illegal immigrants are uninsured because they don’t have legal immigration status and they don’t have drivers licenses.

    If an uninsured driver is involved in a serious accident, then either the victim or their insurance company pays the costs, not the uninsured driver.

    I have no sympathy for unlicensed motorists who are caught up in checkpoints. If you choose to drive on a public road, you must have a valid drivers license, have a current insurance policy (or have posted a bond) and your vehicle must be registered.

  6. Josh R Says:

    Unlicensed drivers getting caught in DWI checkpoints isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Drivers in this county suck badly enough WITH training, let alone without.

  7. bikermark Says:

    Michaelk42:

    MADD zealotry? Drunk driving wasn’t an issue until MADD made it one. I don’t think the organization has outlived its mission either. There’s no expectation of privacy in the public space (i.e. the roadway). And what you do in the privacy of your own vehicle is completely different than what you do in the privacy of your own home. The public has a compelling interest in knowing whether you are drunk, stoned, drowsy, distracted, or other… while you are driving your vehicle.

    I respect the work of MADD, but as a pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, and driver… I want a broader conversation about safety. Because when I’m taken out by an errant 4000 lb projectile–I don’t care whether the driver was drunk or not, because I am just as dead.

    To date, NHTSA, Congress, and automakers have focused solely on how safety can be engineered into cars. Airbags, seat belts, adaptive cruise control, seatbelt pre-tensioners, ABS, stability control–the list goes on and on. What has been done to improve the skill level of drivers?

    Little or nothing. The human factor safety campaigns tend to focus on drunk driving, seatbelts, and car seats.

  8. Kevin Love Says:

    I have no problem with people who choose to commit the crime of driving without a license losing their cars. These people are criminals who deserve to be punished. For people my age, the leading cause of death and injury is car crashes – and unlicensed drivers kill and injure at a much higher rate.

    Getting these criminal, dangerous drivers and their cars off the road saves lives.

    Driving a car is a privilige, not a right. Far too many unsafe drivers are on the roads with a daily toll of death and injuries being the result. I strongly approve of strong enforcement measures to get unsafe drivers and their cars off the road and onto public transit and bicycles.

  9. MikeOnBike Says:

    The tricky part is that we have a combination of factors that attracts people here and pays them to work, but doesn’t allow them to get licenses. So the DUI checkpoint becomes an immigration checkpoint.

  10. LisaL Says:

    If a person has no license, what are they going to do with the car when it is returned to them?

    Perhaps the unlicensed owner should have to obtain a license to get the car back, or arrange a sale of the car to a licensed driver.

  11. JJ Says:

    MikeOnBike is exactly on target. Someone who got a DUI and lost their license but is still driving is a risk. An illegal immigrant, in town only for the harvest season is not. As he pointed out, most illegal immigrants do everything they can to follow every law, because one mishap and they can be deported. Debby DUI gets caught and just gets another slap on the wrist.

  12. Michaelk42 Says:

    @bikermark

    MADD lost its place and became a neo-prohibitionist organization long ago. Even the *founder* said so:

    “Lightner stated that MADD ‘has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving’. That year, Lightner left her position with MADD.”

    Fortunately, this was stopped:

    Putting MADD in Charge of America’s Highways – http://reason.com/archives/2009/04/24/putting-madd-in-charge-of-amer

    Earlier this month, President Barack Obama nominated Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). … He’s a supporter of primary seat belt laws, which allow police to pull motorists over solely for seat belt infractions. In addition to being a questionable use of law enforcement resources (people who don’t wear seat belts aren’t a threat to anyone other than themselves), primary seat belt laws have been criticized for giving police officers the pretext to engage in racial profiling, or to commit asset forfeiture abuse. Hurley has also supported the proliferation of red light cameras, despite studies showing that they’re little more than revenue generators for local government, and may actually cause more accidents than they prevent.

    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.

    We have this pesky 4th Amendment to protect us against unreasonable search and seizures – which coincidentally includes *not* picking people out at random as they travel and demanding their papers.

    I also worry about people like you who are OK with infringing other people’s rights, as long as it isn’t you.

  13. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    Surely the answer to the licensing/insurance issue is to force cars to be fitted with identity transponders that can be checked remotely as they pass.
    A national database of car registration linked to the driver licensing DB and insurance details could weed out virtually all of these in a short space of time.

  14. bikermark Says:

    @Michaelk42:

    People like me? You don’t know me and you don’t know where I stand on the 4th Amendment. You assume that because I am ok with sobriety check points, red light cameras, photo radar, and primary seatbelt laws, that (somehow) I am also in favor of doing away entirely with the 4th Amendment. Not true.

    If you’re going to smear MADD you need to find a more credible source than Reason magazine and with its libertarian drivel and hatred of anything that smacks of regulation. One of Reason’s columnists actually opposes LaHood’s proposed texting-while-driving ban. Fringe.

    Your assertion that there is a causal relationship between DUI checkpoints and an increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths cannot be supported. Even if I grant you that alcohol-related traffic deaths have been inching up, that is to be expected as we drive more every year. The death rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths per 100 million VMT has been dropping since (at least) 1988. Sobriety checkpoints have only been around since the late 1980s. NHTSA makes this research easy to find if you don’t trust me.
    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.18e416bf1b09b6bbbf30811060008a0c/

  15. Michaelk42 Says:

    @bikermark

    “You assume that because I am ok with sobriety check points, red light cameras, photo radar, and primary seatbelt laws, that (somehow) I am also in favor of doing away entirely with the 4th Amendment. Not true.”

    I never said any such thing. Eroding our 4th amendment rights is bad enough, and you stated you support this quite plainly.

    “If you’re going to smear MADD you need to find a more credible source than Reason magazine and with its libertarian drivel and hatred of anything that smacks of regulation. One of Reason’s columnists actually opposes LaHood’s proposed texting-while-driving ban. Fringe.”

    Can’t refute the facts, so you attack the source? Even resorting to name calling I see. One columnist you disagree with affects this column I am referring to how?

    OK, fine. Let’s look at the Supreme Court. http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/drivingissues/1103163004.html

    “Although acknowledging that such roadblocks violate a fundamental constitutional right, Chief Justice Rehnquist argued that they are necessary in order to reduce drunk driving. That is, he argued that the end justifies the means. Attorney and law professor Lawrence Taylor refers to this as “the DUI exception to the Constitution.”

    “Dissenting justices emphasized that the Constitution doesn’t provide exceptions. “That stopping every car might make it easier to prevent drunken driving … is an insufficient justification for abandoning the requirement of individualized suspicion,” dissenting Justice Brennan insisted.

    “Chief Justice Rehnquist had argued that violating individual constitutional rights was justified because sobriety roadblocks were effective and necessary. But dissenting Justice Stevens pointed out that “the findings of the trial court, based on an extensive record and affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, indicate that the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative.” And even if roadblocks were effective, the fact that they work wouldn’t justify violating individuals’ constitutional rights, justices argued.”

    Also, I don’t need to smear MADD; MADD does that itself in its attempts to smear those that don’t agree with them:

    “Opponents of sobriety checkpoints tend to be those who drink and drive frequently and are concerned about being caught.”

    Yes, MADD said that. They have since removed it from their main site page, but feel free to google the phrase and look at all the places it continues to be quoted – local MADD chapters and such.

    “There are many arguments both for and against the use of roadblocks in our effort to reduce drunk driving. For example, many law enforcement officials and researchers believe that roving patrols are much more effective and are a better use of scarce resources. People of good will can and do disagree on such important matters.

    “Unfortunately, MADD’s effort to discredit and marginalize those with whom it disagrees is unproductive and doesn‘t help us make the best decisions about how to reduce impaired and drunk driving, whether or not that involves police roadblocks.”

    You might also include yourself in the “marginalizing those you disagree with” camp with that “fringe” comment of yours.

    The NHTSA data that says in its own summation: “Analysis of fatal crash data indicated a reduction in alcohol-involved drivers in fatal
    crashes on the order of 7% when compared to the rest of the United States. This reduction approached, but did not reach, statistical significance.”

    However, making more sense: checkpoints only stop drivers at random, and keep police from roving patrols where they could actually find drivers exhibiting dangerous driving. If the police are at one place stopping everyone, there are obviously fewer police out actively patrolling.

    You can align yourself with MADD if you like, but it’s not currently any organization I’d want to have anything to do with.

  16. njkayaker Says:

    MikeOnBike@9″The tricky part is that we have a combination of factors that attracts people here and pays them to work, but doesn’t allow them to get licenses. So the DUI checkpoint becomes an immigration checkpoint”

    One of the attractions is that people can easily drive without licenses.

    JJ@11 “MikeOnBike is exactly on target. Someone who got a DUI and lost their license but is still driving is a risk. An illegal immigrant, in town only for the harvest season is not. As he pointed out, most illegal immigrants do everything they can to follow every law, because one mishap and they can be deported.”

    Therefore, licenses should be abolished!

    One way of avoiding the convicted-DUI-driving without a license is to enforce the license requirement for everybody, whether or not they happen to be drunk at the time.

  17. njkayaker Says:

    bikermark@7 “There’s no expectation of privacy in the public space (i.e. the roadway). And what you do in the privacy of your own vehicle is completely different than what you do in the privacy of your own home.”

    There is a strong tradition in this country not to interfere with people behaving normally even in the public space. The “sobriety checkpoints” seem to fail the typical “probable cause” requirement.

    A fundemental premice of the US legal system is accepting the risk of criminals going free to protect the rights of innocent people.

  18. Lee Says:

    I don’t think it’s realistic to call driving in America a choice in all cases.
    For most Latinos, going to the USA is similarly not really a choice in many cases.

    Sure, you can argue it’s immoral and illegal. But for many people, given the circumstances they find themselves in, the best choice remains to cross the border illegally and drive a car without a license or insurance.

    You can’t expect people to make the most moral and legal choices when the results will be completely against their self intrest, and against the health and wealfare of their extended families, etc. Behavior often becomes a function of the environment we find ourselves in.

  19. njkayaker Says:

    Lee@18 “You can’t expect people to make the most moral and legal choices when the results will be completely against their self intrest, and against the health and wealfare of their extended families, etc. Behavior often becomes a function of the environment we find ourselves in.”
    This make sense (it’s fairly obvious).

    Does this mean that people in this situation should be given more leeway with respect to complying with the law? Certainly, rich people have less need to steal things.

  20. Cycler Says:

    The immigration issue to me is a red herring distracting us from the more important public safety issues raised in the letter to the editor.

    While driving without a license seems like a trivial offense, in most states a driver’s license is tied to insurance coverage which is not trivial, or it’s suspension is a punishment for serious offenses like DUI.

    Disregard for the important things which are tied to licensing, displays a very selfish disregard for public welfare, and a “who cares what the rules are” attitude, which I’m afraid correlates highly with other reckless driving practices, and even encourages running after an accident.
    I’m glad to hear that California is cracking down on this, and it seems like sobriety checkpoints dovetail nicely, since otherwise it’s very difficult to check license status without another offense.

  21. Sobriety Says:

    This doesn’t surprise me at all, I’ve also seen drunk drivers get caught three times and their licenses taken away only to get into another accident killing someone. How many times do we need before we learn some people simply should not be driving at all!?

  22. fred_dot_u Says:

    Apparently, it’s more than four times, Sobriety. Florida has recently approved a bill, about to go to the governor for signature, that will allow four time DUI offenders to get their suspended license re-instated. Curiously, the “word on the street” is that it’s supported by the FL division of MADD. Deeper inspection has apparently determined that it’s a MADD family member who wants his license back and a lobbyist has been able to get the wording into the bill.

    Great, someone who’s been driving drunk so many times as to get convicted four times now want to be able to do so again. It appears that it’s going to happen, because the bill has other more attractive items within.

Leave a Reply

Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Twitter
March 2010
M T W T F S S
« Feb   Apr »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031