Obama Picks MADD CEO To Head up Federal Highway Safety Agency


Obama has nominated Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Hurley is a lifelong anti-alcohol activist. MADD's top priority during his stint as CEO was to get states to pass a law 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. Under Hurley's watch, MADD also 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.

Hurley and MADD have a long history of manipulating data to support their policy initiatives. Last year, for example, I explained how a MADD report looking at DWI fatality statistics miraculously came to the conclusion that the numbers in each state–whether up, down, or unchanged–spoke to the urgent need to adopt MADD's ignition interlock law. Hurley and MADD were at the heart of the effort to force the states to adopt the .08 minimum blood alcohol standard under penalty of withdrawing federal highway funds, and weren't at all afraid to invoke dubious statistics to push their position. Hurley has aggressively pushed for the use of constitutionally-questionable roadblock sobriety checkpoints to enforce the new standard, even though there's now good reason to believe the use of roadblocks have actually made the roads more dangerous. Don't be at all surprised to see Hurley use his position at NHTSA to push for a federal interlock law as well. MADD's goals are now NHTSA's.

But Hurley isn't just a zealot on alcohol. His default position seems to be in favor of more highway safety laws, more regulations, and more reasons to stop and fine motorists. Hurley has pushed states to adopt primary seat belt laws, which 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), have been criticized in some quarters for giving police officers another tool to engage in racial profiling, or as a pretext stop in asset forfeiture cases. Hurley has also supported the proliferation of red light cameras, despite studies showing they actually cause more accidents than they prevent.

At the Detroit Free Press, longtime automotive writer Eric Peters lays out what Hurley's NHTSA agenda might look like:

…drivers can expect a ratcheting up of the low-grade harassment they already endure on a daily basis—in the form of more obnoxious regulations, pullover "safety" checks and very possibly lowered speed limits…

The legal standard for "drunk" driving has already been lowered to .08 BAC—a level well below the .10 and up level at which people have actual accidents as opposed to running afoul of "sobriety checkpoints."

But even that isn't enough. Under Hurley, MADD has been pushing to have the legal threshold reduced to .04 BAC, which would turn anyone who had a glass of wine over dinner into a "drunk driver" as far as the law was concerned—and subject them to penalties more severe than those applied to many violent felons…

As NHTSA head, expect him to push MADD's current agenda as far as he can—including mandatory in-car alcohol detectors for everyone, not just those already convicted of DWI. And controversial "sobriety checkpoints" that stop random cars and subject their drivers to Gestapo-like stop and frisks are likely to sprout up in urban and suburban areas across the country.

At the National Safety Council, Hurley campaigned for mandatory air bags and "primary enforcement" seat belt laws on the public, which ironically diverted state and local law enforcement away from catching drunk and reckless drivers and turned them into ubiquitous snoops of the nanny state.

Mandatory air bags—which add thousands of dollars to the price/lifetime ownership costs of every new car—have arguably helped undermine the car industry by making new cars much more expensive and thus less affordable to consumers as well as less profitable to sell.

As head of NHTSA, Hurley will wield immense power. Obama administration insiders expect he will order states and cities to install thousands of new photo radar and red light cameras, and to make a major push for a "pay as you go" driving tax—with mandatory GPS transponders for every vehicle, so Uncle Sam can keep track of where, when and how much you drive—and send you a bill accordingly.

That's change you can believe in. Let the good times roll!

Hurley's one positive? He seems to have drawn the ire of environmental groups for opposing increases to CAFE standards.