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Transportation Nation

New York Senate Votes to Close Drunk Driving Loophole

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Using an ignition interlock device (image courtesy of Minnesota Department of Public Safety video)

The New York Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would strengthen a drunk driving penalty routinely flouted by offenders.

Leandra's Law, which became state law in 2009, mandated that all convicted DWI offenders in the state must install and use an ignition interlock in the vehicles they own or operate for at least six months after their conviction. These are breath test devices linked to a vehicle’s ignition system that prevent the car from starting if alcohol is detected in the driver’s breath.

But according to New York State statistics, only 31 percent of the state's convicted DWI offenders actually comply.

According to a press release from State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, "many drunk drivers try to avoid the ignition interlock requirement by claiming they do not own or operate a vehicle, waiting for the interlock period to run out, and then reapplying for a license without ever having to use the interlock.  Some of these drivers temporarily transfer ownership of the car to a relative or friend, who then allows that person to drive it without an interlock."

The legislation would prohibit convicted DWI offenders from driving any vehicle that doesn't have an ignition interlock. Drivers suspected of avoiding that requirement must instead wear a "transdermal alcohol monitoring device," such as an ankle bracelet.

The Senate voted 58-1 in favor of the legislation, with two absences. The bill now heads to the state Assembly.

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Transportation Nation

Riding Along on the DUI Run With Billings Police

Monday, March 05, 2012

Just before midnight, Billings Police Officer Marc Snider witnessed a young woman drive the wrong way through downtown and then roll over the median in a bank parking lot. He stopped her on the wrong side of the street by the Billings Gazette. Fellow officer Brandon Ihde drove over to assist.

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

“I’m officer Ihde with the Billings Police," he says. "Officer Snider called me over because I’m part of the STEP team. So I do drug interdiction, DUI, traffic and things like that.”

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

He leads the woman to the sidewalk and conducts a field sobriety test, which Snider records with the video camera in Ihde’s car. “Okay, Ashley. Bring your hands back here. I’m going to place you under arrest for DUI. We’re going to go down to the DUI center and we’re going to do some more testing down there. Okay? It’s not going to be quite so cold down there.”

The DUI center is at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility. It has three testing rooms – one each for the Billings Police Department, Montana Highway Patrol, and the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office. Red lines are on the floor for the sobriety test and an Intoxilyzer is in the corner for breath tests. A video camera records activities in the room.

Ihde reads the Montana implied consent advisory to Ashley, then asks: "Will you take a breath test?" He then walks her through the process. “What I need you to do is put your lips on this small section here. You need to take a long, deep breath and blow just like you’re blowing up a balloon. Okay? But don’t grab onto the hose because I don’t want you to break that off. Okay. Long deep breath. Blow really hard. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going."

She blows a .104. Under Montana law, .08 or greater is considered to be under the influence. Ashley then refused to answer any questions or make a statement, so the interview was stopped and officers walk her to the detention facility.

In addition to a half-dozen traffic stops, this was just one of four DUI calls for Ihde that night. And he uses the same procedure for each suspect.

Prosecutors asked the 2011 Montana Legislature to close a loophole they said allowed repeat offenders to not be held accountable. The Montana attorney general’s office testified that nearly 3,000 suspected drunk drivers refused a breath test in 2010, a record. Those who refused to take breath test that year was greater than the number of people convicted of a first offense DUI. Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 42 and it was signed into law last April.

Law enforcement officials across the state are now using the telephonic search warrants for suspects with a prior refusal, past conviction, or pending offense, and Officer Ihde calls one in. “Judge Knisely. This is Officer Ihde, badge number 316, with the Billings Police Department. I am requesting your assistance with a telephonic search warrant for a DUI investigation for a second or subsequent offense. My testimony is being recorded and Officer Firebaugh, badge number 398, is my witness. Will you swear me in please?"

Ihde uses the affidavit in support of a telephonic search warrant to tell the judge the reasons and circumstances for seeking permission to draw blood from the suspect. Permission is granted and the warrant is served. Four officers from the detention center join the two Billings Police officers. The woman is placed into a restraining chair, then a member of the facility’s nursing staff draws 2 vials of blood for testing. The process is videotaped; all of the documentation is submitted to the District Court.

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

It was about 1:30 Saturday morning when Officer Ihde called Judge Mary Jane Knisely for telephonic search warrant request. Later in her chambers, Knisely says the phone calls are part of the job. “I answer the phone pretty easily now," she says, "and I am kind of a light sleeper.” She adds that she makes sure she's taking notes "so I am awake and I know what I am doing. And I am hitting the four corners of the search warrant.”

The judges take turns answering these phone calls. District Judge Russ Fagg also takes the calls in stride, even if they come in the middle of the night. “I think it is our responsibility to take care of the cases in our district," he says, adding that although he has turned down warrant requests in the past, " I have not turned down any telephonic search warrants for a DUI blood test yet." He explains: "Under the U.S. constitution, they have to show probable cause for the request. So I look at what is their probable cause to do that. And do they have probable cause to think, to believe the person is under the influence of alcohol. And if I ever determine that I don’t think they have that then I would certainly turn it down. But I haven’t done it so far.”

The judges and prosecutors say it's too early to tell if the word is getting out about the telephonic search warrants seeking a blood test for DUI arrests, or if it has meant more defendants entering a guilty plea rather than have their case heard in court.

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Transportation Nation

Texas Transpo Officials Hope Light-Hearted Campaign Will Help Curb DWI Fatality Stats

Friday, December 16, 2011


(Houston, TX -- KUHF)

In TXDot's animated public service announcement, Santa is none too happy with what he finds in his barn on Christmas Eve. His reindeer are throwing back beers and martinis and flirting under the mistletoe. So after getting hit in the nose with a flying champagne cork, St. Nick opts for a fleet of taxis to pull his sleigh.

"These campaigns are important because they serve as reminders to motorists to let then know there are other options."

That's TXDot's Deirdrea Samuels, who says the light-hearted TV spots drive home a serious message amid dire statistics. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Texas far outpaces other states in the number of drunk-driving fatalities.  TXDot says its figures show that alcohol is a factor in 36 percent of all the state's traffic deaths. Out of the 3,000 people killed on Texas roads in 2010, over 1,100 died as the result of drunk driving. Samuels says there's one day that sticks out in particular.

"On January 1st of last year, on Texas roadways there were 25 fatalities. Seventeen of those were alcohol-related."

TXDot is hoping to bring down those statistics through its annual holiday anti-drunk driving campaign. This is the 14th year TXDot has conducted the effort. Samuels says the partying reindeer will appear all over Texas in businesses that serve alcohol.

"We have partnered with the Texas Restaurant Association, Texas Petroleum Marketers, the Convenience Store Association, and also restaurants and bars. And we put things like coasters, mirror decals, even on bathrooms, posters. And we just want people to know, don't drive if you're 'tipsy, buzzed or Blitzen.'"

Samuels says they're encouraged by the results of a survey the Texas Transportation Institute conducted last summer. According to the Driver Awareness and Attitudes Survey, Texans are now more likely to designate a sober driver, or get a ride home if they'd have too much to drink. Seventy-five percent of those responding indicated they'd been exposed to an anti-drunk driving message within the past month.

"If you are convicted, a first-time DUI offender can face a fine of up to $2000. You're going to lose your driver's license for up to a year and you can spend up to 180 days in jail."

Samuels says a first-time offender can wind up spending over$17,000 in legal fees, court costs, and insurance rate hikes. A DWI offender also has to spend a lot of time in court and and at alcohol education classes.

"Who knows how many hours, countless hours you're wasting when you could have just easily given the key to someone."

The campaign is funded through federal grant money that's earmarked for state programs aimed at preventing impaired driving. TXDot says the total cost of this year's holiday campaign is $673,000.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: GOP Ties Payroll Tax to Keystone Pipeline, New Marlins Stadium Lacks Transpo Plan, Big Changes for Chicago Taxis

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Mitt Romney: metro-friendly moderate? (Link)
NY's governor signed the MTA tax reduction into law. (Link)
Northern states are looking for eco-friendly road de-icers. (Link)
Protesters disrupt West Coast ports. (Link)

The new Marlins stadium (photo by Ghost of Fire via Flickr)

The GOP is tying the payroll tax cut extension to the Keystone pipeline. (WNYC)

The Los Angeles MTA released a one-year action plan to address civil rights violations cited in a federal audit. (Los Angeles Times)

The New York MTA’s final 2012 budget plan won’t restore any of the bus or subway service officials eliminated last year. (New York Daily News)

A group of senators is pushing to extend the commuter tax benefit before it runs out. (The Hill)

The transportation plan for the new Miami Marlins stadium remains incomplete -- four months before opening day. (Atlantic Cities)

And: The city of Miami --which owns the stadium -- has yet to lease any of the store and restaurant spaces in the new ballpark's parking garages. "The city administration’s effort to fill 53,000 square feet of commercial space in the publicly owned parking garages flanking the stadium has barely gotten off the ground." (Miami Herald)

The City of Chicago is introducing broad changes to its taxi industry regulations. (WBEZ)

An article about Finland's education system yielded this factoid: "Speeding tickets are calculated according to income." (New York Times)

Cities and counties across Texas are increasingly demanding that drunken-driving suspects who refuse to take breathalyzer tests submit to blood tests. (Wall Street Journal)

Colorado decides today whether to make energy companies list all the chemicals they use to do hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. But environmentalists want them to disclose much more. (Marketplace)

Mobile speed cameras in Maryland are racking up ticket money from nailing drivers who speed through work zones. (Washington Post)

Check out an 1896 map of California bike routes. (LA Curbed)

And on this morning's Brian Lehrer Show: tune in around 11:30am for a conversation about one scientist's subway sleeping experiment. (WNYC)

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Transportation Nation

Tougher DUI Bills In MT Closer To Becoming Law

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – A bill that would close a loophole in Montana law that allows suspected drunken drivers avoid taking a breath/blood test is one step closer to becoming law.

The Montana House of Representatives gave final approval to Senate Bill 42 after making a few changes. If the Montana Senate agrees, the final stop for the bill is Governor Brian Schweitzer’s desk.

The bill is part of a package of bills aimed at addressing DUI in Montana.

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Transportation Nation

Montana, Leading the Nation on DUIs, Poised For Crackdown

Thursday, January 06, 2011

(Helena, MT -- Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) -UPDATED Montana lawmakers are poised to crackdown on drunk drivers during the 2011 Montana Legislative session.

Per mile and per capita, Montana leads the nation in fatalities where alcohol is a contributing factor," says Kevin O'Brien, spokesman for the Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock.

O'Brien says that the number of convictions for felony DUI's in Montana rose 39% from 2009 to 2010.  A person will receive the felony DUI designation for any 4th or subsequent DUI conviction. He notes there's been a moderate decrease in the number of first time convictions but the number of repeat offenders keeps going up.

As of today, lawmakers have introduced or requested over 30 bills (or bill drafts) to deal with impaired drivers. This includes making it a crime to refuse a breathalyzer test when stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). State Attorney General Steve Bullock has said some 3,000 suspected drunk drivers refused the breath test last year, and he supports efforts to strengthen DUI laws.

According to an op-ed in the Billings Gazette, "DUI refusal is the bane of prosecutors. A refusal case is one of the most difficult types of criminal cases to try because the key piece of evidence — the suspects' blood alcohol level — is missing...According to Bullock, more people have refused the breath test than have been convicted of first-offense DUI this year."

It is not unusual for the courts to deal with offenders who have multiple DUI convictions on their records. For example, a man with nine DUI convictions was sentenced last August to 13 months with the Montana Department of Corrections. The judge said he would have meted out a longer sentence if one was allowed under Montana law.

The Montana Legislature convened Monday and is scheduled to adjourn at the end of April.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

'Tis The Season ... To Crack Down on Drunk Driving

Monday, December 13, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Department of Transportation kicked off the annual Holiday Drunk Driving Crackdown Monday. Specifically, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wants law enforcement to get tougher on drunk drivers who refuse to take roadside breathalyzer tests with the use of on-call judges and blood tests.

Law enforcement officials say too many drivers know that refusing to take a roadside breathalyzer improves their odds of beating a conviction. Secretary LaHood thinks a strategy being used in nine states dubbed "no refusal" might be a solution.

Under a "no refusal" plan, a judge stays on-call, even in off hours, to issue search warrants by phone if necessary that allow police to take blood samples from drivers who refuse a breathalyzer. Much like searching a car for drugs, this is asking a judge for permission to search for evidence of drunk driving, except the evidence is blood alcohol level, and the search is a blood test.

About one in four drunk drivers refuse a breathalyzer nationwide, while in some states the rate is much higher—in New Hampshire 81 percent of drivers refused. See chart on refusal rates by state here.

LaHood writes on his blog, "states like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and Utah that have adopted "No Refusal" programs demonstrate more guilty pleas and fewer costly trials." And, as you might expect, so called "refusal rates" have also dropped. In Texas, they fell from nearly 50 percent down to 10 percent.

Not every state is able to join up with this federal push backed with $7 million in funding for a national advertising campaign. In 20 states, current law would not allow warrants to be issued for blood tests by "on-call" judges. But that leaves 21 states that LaHood hopes will adopt the plan. Some states that do use "no refusal" plans do so only on certain highly publicized "no refusal" weekends.

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Transportation Nation

New York City's 10,000 Designated Drivers

Thursday, December 02, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  The New York City Department of Transportation announced today that it will be handing out thousands of pre-paid debit cards this holiday season as part of its anti-drunk driving efforts.

You the Man -- as the campaign is known -- offers a find-a-ride search engine, sobriety tests, and a general reminder that the city has 10,000 designated drivers--also known as cabbies.

There's also an iPhone app that has a designated driver picker, as well as a blood alcohol level calculator (although as one reviewer put it:  "if you're buzzed you prob shouldn't base a decision to drive on an iPhone app.")

Beginning next week, the NYC DOT will begin distributing 2,000 free rides home in the form of pre-paid $25 debit cards, programmed for use in taxis and livery vehicles--as well as MTA, PATH and NJ Transit ticketing machines.  To find out where to get a card, follow You the Man on Twitter or Facebook.

As we reported earlier, presumably you can avail yourself of the You the Man services even if you don’t have a car--but just happen to be out and about, needing a ride home. Even if you're sober.

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Transportation Nation

A Third of Highway Deaths Involve Drugs--Yes, 33 Percent!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

(Washington, D.C. -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) As many as a third of all U.S. traffic fatalities involve drug users.

That’s the conclusion of a new analysis out today from the White House Office of Drug Control Policy and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The alarming statistic comes from an analysis of 2009 NHTSA crash data. It shows a full 33% of all post-mortem tests on people who perished in traffic accidents had drugs in their systems. That includes illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, but also includes legal prescription and non-prescription drugs like antidepressants and pain killers. The report does not state what percentage of Americans are on drugs, including legal ones, at any given time.

Alcohol and nicotine were excluded from the analysis, suggesting that “drugged driving” is a much larger safety problem on American roadways than previously thought.

“Unfortunately, it may be getting worse,” said ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske, also known as the ‘drug czar’.

The report concludes that the incidence of positive drug tests in fatal crashes is up five percent over the last five years, even while overall traffic deaths are down.

Federal drug and auto safety officials want drugged driving to become a bigger part of efforts to cut impaired driving. They’re using the numbers to tout a White House pledge to cut drugged driving by 10% by 2015.

But now, some caveats: The NHTSA data only apply to traffic fatalities in which drug tests are performed and then later available. That is not all crashes, so the actual presence of drugs in fatal crashes could be much higher than 33%. On the other hand, the analysis doesn’t separate high levels of drugs—levels that lead to significant impairment—with lower levels that may not.

For example, marijuana stays in the body for 4-6 weeks after its smoked. So the simple presence of marijuana in a driver’s system doesn’t mean he or she used the drug immediately before driving. Also, drugs like antidepressants, while they can be impairing in large doses or if they cause drowsiness, are not necessarily intoxicating when taken day after day. Again, a positive test is a long way from proving the drug caused, or even played a role in, a crash.

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Transportation Nation

The New Frontier of Highway Safety: Distracted Driving

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) In the 70s and 80s, highway safety advocates waged fierce public awareness campaings to convince drivers that not wearing a seat belt is dangerous. In the 80s and 90s, their cause shifted to the dangers of drunk driving.

Now, it appears that cause has shifted once again.

This week, dozens of people involved in the transportation field - from industry execs to federal regulators to non-profiteers - convened in Washington D.C. for the second annual Distracted Driving Summit. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave the opening address, calling on more states to pass bans on texting while driving and announcing nationwide texting bans for train operators and commercial bus and truck drivers.

But LaHood also said this problem can't simply be legislated away. Each individual driver needs to be aware of how dangerous distracted driving is, he said, just as they're already aware of the dangers of drunk driving and the importance of wearing seat belts.

For more, check out this story from WAMU.

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Transportation Nation

Guilty Plea in Drunk Driving Case that Inspired New Law

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This just in from the Manhattan D.A. :

DISTRICT ATTORNEY VANCE ANNOUNCES GUILTY PLEA OF CARMEN HUERTAS IN FATAL DRUNK DRIVING INCIDENT

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the guilty plea of CARMEN HUERTAS, 32, in connection with the drunk-driving incident that killed 11-year-old Leandra Rosado and injured six other girls between the ages of 11 and 14. Huertas pleaded guilty to all of the charges against her, including the top charge in the indictment:
Manslaughter in the Second Degree. HUERTAS will be sentenced on October 1, 2010.

"In pleading guilty to the charges against her, Carmen Huertas is acknowledging criminal responsibility for this tragic incident," said District Attorney Vance. "It is my hope that the family of victim Leandra Rosado can derive some small measure of comfort from today's events, and from the fact that her death inspired the swift passage of Leandra's Law. That law made it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car, and as of this Sunday will require ignition interlock devices in the cars of those convicted of driving while intoxicated. Leandra's Law is a powerful tool for prosecutors and will prevent other senseless deaths from occurring in the future."

According to documents filed in court, the investigation leading to today's guilty plea revealed that

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Transportation Nation

Strong Measures to Stop Drunk Driving

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"When an alcoholic drinks, his head is full of lies, and those lies tell me that I’m okay, I’ll be able to keep the car between the lines or I won’t get caught this time," says Dan Hoge.  He's a four-time convicted drunk driver.  And his experience may be less extreme than it seems.  Recent findings on drinking and driving show that, by the time the average person is caught driving drunk, they’ve gotten away with it 87 times.  Hoge has been sober for eight years, and went on to establish Drunks Against Drunk Driving. He's joined on The Takwaway this morning by UCLA transportation scholar Eric A. Morris, who has just finished writing a series on drunk driving for the New York Times Freakonomics blog.  Here are The Takeaway's Todd Zwillich and Celeste Headlee:

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Transportation Nation

Will You Drink and Drive This Weekend?

Friday, July 16, 2010

In an average year, Americans report that they drive under the influence of alcohol as many 159 million times.  Maybe more.  By the CDC's count, one person dies every 45 minutes in a crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver, and these wrecks cost the country more than $51 billion [the way the government adds this up is interesting: among other things, men are more likely to get in alcohol-related crashes, and lost earnings are more severe].

But curbing this practice is tough.  The strongest factor, according to UCLA transportation scholar Eric A. Morris is better enforcement of the law.  Morris is wrapping up a series on the Freakonomics blog about drinking and driving.  Among his writings is the stunning fact that, by the time the average person is caught driving drunk, they've gotten away with it 87 times.  Morris will be on The Takeaway next Tuesday with more.  -- Collin Campbell

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