Putting MADD in Charge of America's Highways

President Obama's troubling nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama nominated Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Hurley's pending appointment is bad news for social drinkers, motorists, and anyone interested in freedom of movement and less hassle on the roadways. Hurley is an anti-alcohol zealot, and a longtime proponent of just about any highway regulation that's sold under the guise of public safety. 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.

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.

With Hurley in charge, MADD’s goals will become NHTSA’s goals. That's troubling because at heart, MADD is an activist organization. The groups once-admirable goal of raising public awareness about drunk driving has over the last several years morphed into a zealous, evangelical teetotaling campaign. When a coalition of college presidents recently asked for nothing more than a new debate over the federal drinking age last year, for example, MADD called on parents to boycott the presidents' schools. MADD has supported prison sentences for parents who allow alcohol consumption at chaperoned parties for underage teens, and fought efforts to allow underage veterans to have a beer on base after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even MADD's founder, Candace Lightner, has renounced the group, calling them "neo-prohibitionists."

MADD is no longer merely a group of concerned mothers raising awareness. They've become very powerful, pushing for laws based on questionable data and that involve real trade-offs between safety, privacy, and individual freedom. That's what makes the organization's close relationship with the government so troubling. Hurley isn't the first MADD exec to make the jump to NHTSA—or the other way around. MADD regularly receives funding from the federal government. Members of MADD have even been known to help man and run sobriety checkpoints. MADD also runs many of the mandatory classes DWI convicts are forced to attend (and pay for).

Hurley would take NHTSA in a much more activist direction. States could expect to see more federal mandates about how they manage their roads, and motorists could expect expensive new mandatory safety add-ons to new vehicles; more reasons for to get pulled over; and lots more red light and speed cameras. NHTSA needs a director who will balance safety with freedom, who will look at data dispassionately, and who will consider unintended consequences before ushering in sweeping new policies.

Chuck Hurley isn't that person.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

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  • ||

    Fuck that guy and the jackass he rode in on.

  • ||

    He's also a big fan of the 55mph speed limit, and can be found quoted in lots of stories proposing bringing it back or lamenting its loss.

  • SpongePaul||

    we are soooo fucked. get ready to crawl along at 40 mph because thats the safest speed, 1 glass of wine, you get pulled over and you are sentenced to jail for a chianti with lasangna. to become a member of the striped workers coalition

  • SpongePaul||

    I WILL NEVER DRIVE 55!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ||

    bad news for social drinkers, motorists, and anyone interested in freedom of movement and less hassle on the roadways.

    But it's good news if...uh, you're a member of MADD? Or a cop?

  • ||

    It's also good news if you're a petty tyrant with a hole in your municipal budget to fill.

  • Paul||

    Obama is being presidential. He has to govern.

  • Justen||

    TBH, I'm not all that sympathetic about the ignition interlock for first-time DWI offenders. We can debate the safe alcohol limit all we want, but once defined and violated I'm not interested in the hardships of the offenders. The rest of this stuff however is ridiculous. Police checkpoints are a cheap excuse to circumvent probable cause. Once the cop is allowed to stop and interrogate people without cause he is free to use whatever tactics he like to demand ID, gain entry access to the vehicle and generally waste people's time and violate their 4th amendment rights. Believe me, I worked an access control point with basically the same operational rules as a checkpoint and we pulled that crap all the time; I don't think more than a small fraction of the people we harassed were for cause. Although we did often find drugs, concealed weapons, etc. based on these tactics I was never of the belief that the ends justified the means; eventually, I quit.

  • ||

    Also today, Janet Napolitano added freeway commuters and pub patrons to the terrorist watch list.

  • SpongePaul||

    i swear or federal goverment has more dicks inside it than (insert thrashy girl here) aka paris hilton a porn star etc etc

  • ||

    You know, Obama being worse than any of us could have possibly imagined is really no fun, as none of his lickspittle cocksucking supporters will even dare show up and defend him.

  • Jordan||

    I'm withholding judgment until I hear what Sammy Hagar has to say.

  • JW Gacy||

    Can someone please give SpongePaul a ride home?

  • ||

    JW, don't make fun of SpongePaul. He's obviously had a fairly bad stroke recently and part of his therapy is reading and posting on blogs. I wish him well on his road to recovery!

  • ||

    This is a real question... I haven't hit one of those checkpoints in years... but what would happen if you refused to offer any information other than the fact you're BAC was at an acceptable level? That is, no ID, no proof of insurance, no answering questions.

    Will they arrest me? Would it be worthwhile for being able to tell the cool story of being oppressed by the man?... you don't get ass-raped in the kind of cell they'd send you to, right?

  • ||

    Funny, he doesn't look like a mother. Oh, they mean it the other way. Never mind.

  • ||

    Oh my God - enforcing laws and protecting innocent people from absolute morons who drink and drive?!? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ooops||

    "i swear or federal goverment has more dicks inside it than (insert thrashy girl here)"

    Tim Cavenaugh

  • ||

    Better get used to biking, so it will be only way to travel (don't forget your papers though)

  • ||

    This is a real question... I haven't hit one of those checkpoints in years... but what would happen if you refused to offer any information other than the fact you're BAC was at an acceptable level? That is, no ID, no proof of insurance, no answering questions.

    Its called a driving license because you have to have it to drive and liability insurance is mandatory everywhere (I believe?). You would be arrested for failing to provide either without providing the mother of all excuses.

  • Nephilium||

    Lost_In_Translation:

    Biking won't protect you in every state. As an example, in Ohio, you can get an OVI (the fancy term for drunk driving) riding a bicycle. Because of the way the law is written, you would then have your driver's license suspended, and have to go to the weekend retreat. Hells, during my joyless weekend retreat, there was one guy there who had parked his car at a lot, went out, realized he wasn't good to drive home, and made the responsible decision. It was summer in Cleveland, so he crawled into the back seat of his car, locked the doors, and went to sleep. Parking lot attendants called it in, cops came, and because he had the keys in his pocket, he got arrested and convicted.

    As a side note, there is one mode of transport that (besides walking), that you cannot receive an OVI on. A unicycle.

    Oh, and since it hasn't been said yet. Yo, fuck MADD.

    Nephilium

  • ||

    Maybe they think if they make driving into a living hell, people will ride public transit and high speed rail.

    Those of you following along with the "Road to Serfdom" cartoon, this is frame #10 where the planners hand the plan to the strongman.

  • ||

    I'm withholding judgment until I hear what Sammy Hagar has to say.

    One diaper in the trunk, and one on my ass, hey!
    When I eat too much fiber, I can't pass, no!
    So just as I'm about to move,
    A big black and white come and crushed my groove again!

    CHORUS:
    Go on & write me cuz I'm 85
    Check my pulse, see if I am alive
    Take my license n' all that jive
    I can't even drive 45! Oh No! Uh!

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    If I take it back about Balko slacking, can I have a nice weekend again?

    Please?

  • ||

    How is this guy not considered a lobbyist requiring a waiver?

  • Playa Manhattan||

    I worked what I hope was my last DUI checkpoint last December in an upscale municipality in Southern California. I can tell you this: there is no shortage of manpower to staff these things, as it is all overtime pay that comes from state and federal grant money...
    We had over 1000 vehicles pass through, with each driver questioned about his/her drinking behavior that night. About 60 drivers were asked to step out of the vehicle for further questioning, with only 1 arrest (and later conviction) for DUI. We did, however, impound 18 vehicles for unlicensed/suspended driver.
    There were 2 things that really bothered me about the experience...

    1) We actually took possession of the 60 vehicles where the drivers were asked to step out for further investigation, and only returned the keys to the driver after they had proved that they were not DUI/DWL (driving without license). The passengers in the vehicle (if there were any) were forced exit the vehicle and stand on the side of the road while the driver was put through FSTs.

    2) The private tow truck company that handled the vehicle impounds basically catered the whole affair, bringing food and refreshments for all of the officers at the checkpoint. This struck me as a clear conflict of interest, given that the tow company is paid per vehicle impounded. The decisions officers make with regard to impounding or releasing a vehicle clearly have an impact on the bottom line of the tow company.

    Similar things pissed me off about the December DUI checkpoint I worked at 2 years ago, and the experiences will keep me from ever voluntarily signing up to work a DUI detail ever again...

    P.S. The traffic officer who made the one DUI arrest at the checkpoint? He has received several awards over the years from MADD recognizing his contributions to the "fight" against drunk driving. The driver he arrested was .09 on his first blow, and .08 on his second...
    Sad...

  • wingnutx||

    He's not a lobbyist, he's community organizer.

  • ||

    The article refers to "teatotalling," which I can only assume to be some kind of method of summing up teas. I think that it meant "teetotalling."

  • ||

    What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child.

  • ||

    I'll say that life is full of risks. It could just as easily have been some moron texting, or some woman putting on makeup, or some fat ass eating a burger, or some young punk hot-dogging. May as well just ban all potentially dangerous behavior, including driving. You know, for the kids.

  • ||

    MADD has supported prison sentences for parents who allow alcohol consumption at chaperoned parties for underage teens, and fought efforts to allow underage veterans to have a beer on base after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.



    I had thought that Obama would be better than McCain on civil liberties. I should have listened to my inner cynic which believes that all politicians want control over people, the only difference being what priority the different abridgements of freedom get.

    I'm going to take my inner cynic out for a beer or two tonight and apoligize. I should know better, he's somewhat of a downer to live with, but he's rarely wrong.

  • ||

    What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child.
    I'd start with Goddammit, followed by an obscenity and blasphemy filled tirade that would make a whorehouse bouncer blush.

    What will you say when some sober idiot kills one of your loved ones? That .00 BAC drivers should be banned from the public roads?

  • Wicks cherrycoke||

    Why are people still surprised when a liberal democrat with a leftist voting record in every prior office he has held takes step to increase the power and scope of government generally, and at the federal level in particular? Did anyone really expect different?

  • ||

    What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child.

    What will you say when an airplane crashes into your house?

    What will you say when a train derails and dumps toxic chemicals?

    What will you say when your kid drowns in the bathtub?

  • ||

    We need more airplane regulations.

    We need more train regulations.

    We need more home bathing regulations and a 'Child at home' license.

    If we regulate enough nothing bad will ever happen. Not much of anything else either.

  • ||

    "Its called a driving license because you have to have it to drive..."

    Maybe I need to read up on the court history of this stuff, but I was kind of holding onto the idea that they need probable cause to demand your papers. But I guess that's already out the window at these checkpoints...

    I just don't know if *everything* is fair games for the cops to look into... I was hoping that maybe, technically, the only information they can compel you to provide, under threat of arrest, is whether or not you're DUI.

  • ..||

    we are soooo fucked

    The libertarian mantra.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    The article refers to "teatotalling," which I can only assume to be some kind of method of summing up teas. I think that it meant "teetotalling."



    No, "teatotalling," which which refers to drinking only tea and hence not consuming any alcoholic beverages is correct.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    I think that it meant "teetotalling."



    I'm actually curious as to what possible meaning "teetotalling" might have.

    While given the context of alcohol abstinence the meaning of "teatotalling" would appear to be obvious.

  • Kolohe||

    something to do with teabagging?

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Ignore those comments.

    Through the miracle of google I have discovered that another of my long held beliefs is wrong.

    Still "teetotalling" makes no sense to me while "teatotalling" does. But the world was nor designed to please me, alas.

  • ||

    Teatotaling doesn't have anything to do with tea. During the temperance movement people were asked to sign abstinence contracts which they marked with a "T" for total abstinence.

  • rhhardin||

    F.T.Grampp: ``If it weren't for the drunks, a lot of them wouldn't be mothers.''

    A nice analysis of the rhetoric of drunk driving as a public problem in The Culture of Public Problems: drinking-driving and the symbolic order.

    It used to be merely a personal moral failing.

    The general political move is to define a new public problem and take ownership of it.

    Two others: child abuse, which did not exist before the 60s as a public problem (and child sexual abuse in the 70s); and stray dogs (in the 80s) became public problems.

    Gusfield in his later books generalizes the rhetoric as a sociological phenomenon.

  • ||

    Hrmmm, I wonder where Barnie Franks and the rest of the leftists, who are supposedly so great on "lifestyle" issues, stand on this stuff.

  • Xeones||

    MlR, their chauffeurs are not allowed to drink on the job anyway, so it is of no concern.

  • ||

    Considering this regime's control freak attitude, this kind of appointment comes as no surprise. I mean, look at the disgrace he put in as DHS czar, if you are looking for an example of the Peter Principle. Geitner is no prize either.

    Hurley sounds like one of those guys who got pounded on a regular basis in school, because he was so obnoxious. When those types grow up, they go off the deep end, and become power freaks. it is their way of getting revenge on everybody.

  • ||

    Now, here's something the Fox people and the talk radio idiots should get worked up about. Of course they won't...

  • Kip\'s Ma||

    Get used to us.

  • Ben||

    Kip's Ma wrote:

    > Get used to us.

    Ok, hon. Turn around and bend over.

  • ||

    I'm not sure how worried I am here -- I don't doubt what this MADD tool would *like* to do. But I couldn't think of a better way for Obama to guarantee a 2nd term loss than to reimpose the 55mph speed limit. Seriously. And I don't think 24/7 GPS tracking, and more red-light cameras and sobriety check-lanes would be political winners either. Those are things that have the capacity to piss people off enough to become single-issue voters.

  • ||

    "Obama is being presidential. He has to govern."

    And there you have, in a nutshell, the core problem with our political system. Politicians get elected and then look around frantically for something to DO. Some cause to champion (or attack). Some crisis to solve. It would never occur to Obama (or any President since Calvin 'silent Cal' Coolidge) that as President he could just Preside, and not always be frantically looking for something to DO.

    Of course my ideal President could easily stay frantically busy for two terms UNDOING the meddling of the Federal Government, and STILL not make a dent. But I notice that Obama's reaction to failed policy doesn't tend to be "Oh, well telling the mortgage lenders to lend to people who can't pay them back obviously doesn't work. Let's stop. Telling the automakers they can't play hardball with the Unions obviously was a three decade train wreck, let's stop.". Instead he is always on the lookout for NEW mistakes to make.

    Not that his opponent would have been much different.

  • Kip\'s Ma||

    Ok, hon. Turn around and bend over.

    Just because I'm in politics doesn't mean I don't like it that way.
    We give as good as we get. Better, even.

  • ||

    Get used to us.

    "Get used *by* us," more likely.

  • engineer||

    THAT'S IT! HULK RAGE ON!!!

  • engineer||

    "Why are people still surprised when a liberal democrat with a leftist voting record in every prior office he has held takes step to increase the power and scope of government generally, and at the federal level in particular? Did anyone really expect different?"
    Don't ask me. Ask Dave Weigel, Steve Chapman, Terry Michael, and Elemenope.

  • engineer||

    "What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child."
    Personally, I think we should add "Think of the Children" and its variants to the Reason drinking game. You can always tell someone's losing an argument when they take this tack.

  • ||

    "based on these tactics I was never of the belief that the ends justified the means; eventually, I quit."

    Eventually. But you did indulge in bullshit tactics for a while? Did it give you an erection? Please kill yourself, asshole.

  • engineer||

    Z,
    Lighten up, Francis.

  • BradK||

    Putting this fascist douchebag in charge of NHTSA is akin to allowing the Vatican to dictate sex education curriculum. It's all good -- so long as you agree with the agenda.

  • robc||

    What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child.

    Man, his driving sucks, but it wasnt due to driving drunk.

  • ||

    "What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child."

    I will say "Punish this swine for what he has actually done, not hundreds of others for what they might possibly do in the future."

  • Sean W. Malone||

    I believe that "Swine" is the most high-class insult imaginable.

    Very good.

  • LarryA||

    What will you all have to say when one of these .08 drivers kills your spouse or child.

    What will you have to say when one of these former .08 drivers kills your spouse or child because they were busy blowing in a tube?

    What will you have to say when your spouse or child dies in an accident caused by a "sobriety" checkpoint?

    What will you have to say when your spouse or child is murdered in a jail cell because they flunked the new .00 test?

    Silver lining department: At least Sarah Brady isn't the head of the BATFE, yet.

  • LarryA||

    Dang. Probably shouldn't have posted that last point publicly.

  • ||

    # LarryA | April 26, 2009, 7:16pm | #
    # Dang. Probably shouldn't have posted that
    # last point publicly.

    Yeah Larry, and when it happens, you WILL get the blame, and deserve it. Count on it.

  • ||

    On Chuck Hurley:

    I met the guy. He is a graduate of my college and came to a debate.

    http://www.dickinson.edu/news/features/2008/drinking_age/

    I'm the guy at the bottom with the fur hat and blue hoody, whose question he is fielding. I spent a year in Germany previously and asked him if they would consider lowering the purchase age for beer/wine to 18, while keeping liquor at 21. The German system (16 - Beer/Wine & for 18-Liquor)generally allows people to accustom themselves to alcohol consumption. Poisoning yourself with beer requires a considerably larger amount of effort. You can drink a lethal dosage of liquor in under a minute, but you need to visit the bathroom at least twice before you can poison yourself with beer. Teenagers in Germany (unlike America) don't hesitate to call an ambulance if someone has alcohol poisoning. He categorically rejected my suggestion and pointed at some dubious "22,000 alcohol-related deaths per year" statistic. It's nice that he at least pretended to consider my question before reciting the party line.

    Also, I called up the White House to complain about his pick for NHTSA. I have them on speed dial now.

  • ||

    Say goodbye to ever having a beer again in a bar or tavern. Forget about that wine with dinner. Oh, sure... you can take a taxi, or have a designated driver, but that does nothing to change the fact that this kind of stupid legislation and enforcement is, and has been, pulling sales down to levels that make it impossible to keep a bar open. People are so paranoid now that they limit their drinking to one, whether they are driving or not. No bar, no restaurant, no on-sale business will survive selling only one drink per customer. I get pretty apoplectic just thinking about MADD, but this toolbox needs tossing. What a righteous fool. On the other hand, he may be enough of a lightning rod to actually make some progressive changes, by common sense standing up and reacting to him.

  • ||

    Sorry for the late post but I was busy this weekend. It is neither "teetotaling" nor "teatotaling". The proper term you are looking for is teatogleing- as in "He couldn't help teatogleing the young barmaid." Or perhaps you meant teatyodeling - a sexual pratice popular with the swiss and graduate students in Western New York. See also - vaginalyodeling, penisyodeling, and anusyodeling.

  • ||

    I think it is likely that Obama was not exactly spending alot of time on this appointment - traffic safety not being on his big hit list.

    I don't particularly agree with MADD. I think it does have a strong neo-prohibitionist streak but I have no idea whether this man is part of that angle.

    I was at a MADD victim impact panel recently which was filled with drunk drivers and in my unscientific poll, most of us were driving way over .08. However many social drinkers there are out there, there are way too many drunks like me out there too.

    Designated driver scenarios are not practical. I think that this should all be handled by the motor vehicle folks. If you get caught drunk driving, pay a fine and lose your license for a month. If you hit somebody, you become party to a civil suit for losses.

    The idea of arresting someone and sending them to prison because of damage they "might" cause to someone else is not right.

  • ||

    I live in SW Ohio, one of the more fun-hating regions in the US (as evidenced by our horrible freedom-hating county sheriff Simon Lease, who is referred to ("affectionately") on his own website as "The Great Three-in-One of the Justice System" because he has served as prosecutor, judge, and sheriff--but really because he seems to think of himself as Judge Dredd. But I digress....

    I just came upon this great little article...of particular note is the final paragraph which we can probably expect (much) more of given the new Highway Tsar:
    http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090430/NEWS01/905010348

  • ||

    Not only does the .08 law make you a criminal for haveing a few beers and being fine but it is just a cover up to line peoples pocket with your hard earned money in example, tow truck to to your car 400 dollors for towing 15 miles..bail bond 350 dollors for a person thats lived in the county for 53 yrs and never has even been to the jail....lawyer 3,500 dollors flat rate Im sorry you mothers have lost loved ones but that is all this is about punishing people that are fine, just to make you feel better

  • Joe Kickass||

    I bet this guy eats salads and listens to his wife. What a little bitch.

  • nike shox||

    is good

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