New California law could give free rides to those too drunk to drive

It’s an all-too-familiar scene in Sacramento. A group of friends heads to midtown for a night of partying and drinking, but one friend has to miss out on the fun and stay sober to be the designated driver.

A new law that takes effect Jan. 1 may not only let everyone join in on the fun, but it’ll also mean more money for the bubbly.

Under Assembly Bill 711, alcohol manufacturers and licensed sellers can offer free or discounted rides to transport drinkers home safely through ride-sharing services, taxicabs or other ride providers.

Vouchers or codes can be given to alcohol sellers or directly to consumers, but cannot be offered as incentives to buy a company’s product. Current law restricts alcohol licensees from offering discounts of anything more than inconsequential value to consumers, though liquor and wine manufacturers have been temporarily allowed to pay for rides for people attending private, invitation-only events. …

Click here to read the full story from the Sacramento Bee

MADD-Backed Ignition Interlock Mandate Wrong for California

Drunk driving2After nearly a decade of activists working to pass a law mandating installation of ignition interlock devices (IID’s) in the cars of anyone convicted of a DUI, success appeared imminent — until a couple weeks ago.

Senate Bill 1046 has been positively flying through the Assembly — enjoying the kind of unanimous support reserved for feel-good legislation pushed by a group no one wants to oppose.

It’s almost as if Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and its allies in the Assembly hoped they could outrun the facts.

But last month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released its “Specific Deterrent Evaluation of the Ignition Interlock Pilot Program in California,” which studied the efficacy of the interlock mandate in four California counties: Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare. Much to the dismay of advocates, the DMV report did not advocate in favor of expanding the pilot program statewide.

The bottom line of the DMV report: Those who installed the devices had an increased risk of crash or fatal injury compared to those who did not.

That’s right: Instead of making the roads safer, a statewide ignition interlock mandate for all offenders would likely make drivers less safe.

It makes sense if you think about it. IID’s require the driver to not only blow into them when they start the car, but also undergo a “rolling retest” which occurs at random to ensure the driver didn’t simply have someone else blow into the device to start the car. But picking up the device when it beeps to complete a long breath test is a massive distraction — not unlike texting and driving.

But there are some in California who don’t want a small detail like public safety to get in the way of a feel-good agenda. MADD, along with the bill’s author State Senator Jerry Hill, are already looking for ways to discredit the DMV’s impartial findings.

Yet this is the second year in a row that the DMV evaluated the pilot program and refused to recommend expanding it. In 2015, the five-year pilot program was extended for an additional 18 months after the DMV found that “the IID pilot program was not associated with a reduction in the number of first-time and repeat DUI convictions in the pilot counties.”

Since proponents of expanding interlock mandates in California can’t point to empirical evidence that the law would have a net positive effect on traffic safety, they instead fall back on the fact that 26 other states have passed similar laws. What they don’t mention is how poorly the laws are working in those states.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association fewer than 20 percent of those ordered to get an interlock actually have them installed. The reason is that laws like the one proposed in California are an unfunded mandate, meaning there’s no money to ensure that offenders actually comply with the law.

That’s why ignition interlock mandates for all offenders is such misguided public policy. Over 70 percent of alcohol-related fatalities are caused by high-BAC and repeat offenders — hard-core alcohol abusers. California could save far more lives if it worked to reach 100 percent ignition interlock installation compliance among this target population, rather than expanding the mandate so widely that it is even more difficult to enforce.

But that wouldn’t serve MADD’s ultimate agenda of seeing alcohol-sensing technology installed in every car in America.

It may sound far-fetched, but MADD has long supported an ongoing federal program called DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) which has developed technology that can read a driver’s blood alcohol concentration level through touch technology in the steering wheel or ignition button. A drivable prototype was unveiled last year and engineers aim to have it on the market in approximately five years.

Thus, MADD is pushing hard to expand current ignition interlock laws. The more the current technology is normalized, the easier it will be to sell its more sophisticated progeny to legislators and the public.

But just because the DMV report doesn’t serve MADD’s ultimate goal, doesn’t mean we should ignore the findings.

Facts are stubborn things. And the fact is, interlock mandates for first-offenders aren’t the drunk driving panacea MADD wants them to be.

Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute.

Free Rides Program for Drunk CA Senators Withers Under Public Criticism

Ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us that when the Persians decided a matter while drunk, they made a rule to reconsider it when sober.

Recent news from Sacramento tells us that the state Legislature may have adopted at least the first part of the Persian ritual. Members of the Senate were recently issued cards with a phone number they could call 24/7 when inebriated, so they could be picked up at whatever location and be driven home by a Senate employee. When the program became public last week, it withered under public ridicule and the Senate leadership responded by attempting to quietly put the genie back in the bottle by canceling the free service to lawmakers late Friday afternoon.

However, if the “drunks ride free” cards are no longer valid, the questions raised by this elitist perk remain.

The program was probably a defensive reaction to the bad publicity stemming from the drunken driving arrests of four lawmakers in the last five years, but it makes one wonder: How serious is this problem?  If taxpayers were expected to pay for this service, should money also be spent providing counseling or detox to those members of the Legislature who drink in excess? Perhaps these cards were a tacit admission that some legislators have a drinking problem,which may boost the argument that some have been making that drug testing should be required for elected officials. Just last year such a bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature.

Some will say that safety should be the primary concern, and they would be right, but aren’t our elected officials bright enough to call a cab when they are tipsy?  Perhaps they don’t like dipping into their $142-a-day in tax free expense money, which they get on top of the highest legislative salaries in all 50 states. And considering their ability to influence government policy, is it fair to say that it is most likely that the drinks they consume are not paid for by them but by favor seekers?

Although the cost to taxpayers for the free ride program was relatively small – we have a state budget of $170 billion – it is another symbol of the arrogance of the political class when dealing with other people’s money. It is the same kind of thinking that allowed the Senate President Pro Tem to spend nearly $30,000 in taxpayers’ money on his “inauguration” held at the Los Angeles Music Center.

However, whether members have been drinking or not, sober judgement in the Legislature seems in short supply. Currently, under consideration are bills that would boost the California yearly tax burden by $132 billion, according to an analysis just released by the California Taxpayers Association. Just one bill, Senate Bill 8 by Robert Hertzberg, would extend the sales tax to services, like auto repair and gardening, and cost taxpayers a whopping $122.6 billion a year, says the State Board of Equalization. If all these bills were to pass, it would increase the annual tax liability for every man, woman and child in the state by nearly $3,500.

With all these tax increases coming down the pike, it is the taxpayers who may be tempted to take up drinking, although if lawmakers get their way, alcohol along with everything else, may soon cost more. On thing is for sure, there will be no “free ride” for taxpayers.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published at HJTA.org