Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MADD and ignition interlocks: follow the money

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on drunk driving today, part of what appears to be a series on the topic. In it, they question the position of distillers' business group The Century Council on drunk driving; TCC feels that the next step in stopping drunk driving deaths should be stiffer penalties for drivers who are caught at 0.15 BAC and over. The article has some very interesting looks at the numbers behind that, which made me question my position on this, which has been similar to TCC's. Good job, and thoughtful.

However, they talk about MADD's support for ignition interlocks (MADD wants interlocks in the cars of everyone arrested for DUI), evaluate it, and give it tacit approval...without pointing out MADD's financial links to the company that makes ignition interlocks; a major MADD donor. Actually, the WSJ is not particularly lax: no one ever mentions it. Check it out, folks: follow the money.

12 comments:

sam k said...

Interesting take on the link you highlight, though the article never mentions the actual manufacturer/MADD donor.

Love your investigative journalism!

Russ said...

While you're following the money, check out the list of sponsors from MADD's own webpage: http://www.madd.org/getdoc/7844b05d-c54e-487b-9629-eb83e92676ed/Meet-Our-Sponsors.aspx How peculiar that so many insurance companies are listed. Say, when the DUI limit is lowered and otherwise legal drivers suddenly become law-breakers, you don't suppose their insurance premiums go up, do you?

Lew Bryson said...

The manufacturer is Smart Start; here's one annual report that shows their donation:
http://www.madd.org/getattachment/129d5f52-18f7-4a52-b477-f04e58af6d78/2005-Annual-Report.aspx

Now...it makes sense that a business that makes this stuff would donate to MADD. But for MADD to then lobby for putting these devices in thousands of cars...seems like a quid pro quo.

jp said...

Here is my take. I think the fact that MADD recieves support from auto insurance industry supports the efficacy of ignition interlocks and other MADD policy goals. All their monpolistic and coercive practices not withstanding, private insurers are driven by their bottom line and would not waste political and financial capital pushing an agenda that does not increase their revenues or reduce their costs (read they believe such devices will lower claims). They also have access to the the country's most extensive and detailed imperical data on the subject (historical claims) not to mention 10,000s actuaries who interpret this data. Although I am not a fan of the private insurance industry, I think they are very good at allocating resources to shape public policy in a way to reduce their costs(claims). The public at large occasionally as in this case, benefits from their coercion.

Lew Bryson said...

Well-reasoned, jp. My only objection: do they support things that work for public health and benefit, or things that protect them from liability? Not always the same thing.

Lew Bryson said...

Actually, it would also benefit the auto insurance companies to support a movement/group that had a prohibitionist agenda. Where does that lead?

jp said...

well I do not think it would not be a good thing for anybody. But it is not a very realistic probability either. I think there are enough checks and balances in the public policy sphere to prevent agendas from reaching ridiculous zero sum conclusions. Just as I am sure you would agree that complete repeal of any and all booze laws would be utter folly. Let's have a approach that looks at the data. I think we are all in agreement here that reducing drunk driving accidents is a good thing. Debate should focus on efficacy of such a policy and cost and benefits of its implementation. Like any policy problem I think the first thing to do is to get away from a dogmatic adherence to our ideology be it wet or dry.

glann kernanahan said...

Unfortunately we've become an automobile-reliant society. I'm one of the few that can walk to my corner bar, or about a dozen others, without getting behind the wheel of a car.

I'm not sure if it was you Lew but someone wrote a salient piece recently on how liquor licenses are bought up by the chains out in the suburbs where there is no public transportation and way to walk, and usually nothing residential around. God forbid the cul-de-sac in suburban wonderland have a corner bar near it, it could be the ruin of all the children we are trying so hard to protect.

Lew Bryson said...

Got no problem with getting away from dogma. I've always thought (and said) that I don't have a problem with policies that actually WORK without draconian penalties or unrealistic requirements. An ignition interlock in every car (roughly $1,000 per car is the figure I've seen, PLUS monthly readings and semi-annual calibrations)seems to fall into the second category to me.

What I'd really like to know is why we had a huge decrease in drunk driving deaths that plateaued in the late 1990s. It hasn't really declined since then. How come? What's the next step? Or did something change in the reporting?

jp said...

Agreed $1000 is a lot and I have heard those calibrations are pricy too. Maybe I am wrong, but as I understood it, the policy was intended for drivers who had already been cited for DUI or DWIs that is, calibrations were mandated only if you had been already cited. One thing is for sure, with the current state of OEM automakers int he states there would be a TON of pushback form them on such a policy

Russ said...

jp-

The insurance industry's support of MADD has nothing to do with a belief that their policies will reduce claims. It has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that decreasing the legal limit for DUI's will lead to more people receiving them. And more people receiving them means more people paying FOUR TIMES the premium they were paying before they got the DUI. The insurance industry benefits financially from MADD policies even if they don't lead to fewer alcohol-related claims.

I COMPLETELY agree with your comment that we need to get away from dogma and focus on the data. That's why I get so frustrated with MADD. Pretty much every non-MADD/NHTSA study I've read indicates that the vast majority of alcohol-related fatalities come from recidivist drunk drivers who are well above .10. As such, lowering the legal limit won't change much (and that's been proven empirically when states went from .10 to .08). And as for interlock devices, the California DMV did a study in 2004 that concluded they aren't effective at reducing drunk driving.

Believe me, I'm as concerned about drunk driving as the next guy. I just think MADD has lost its way. Hell, even their founder left the organization because it "has become far more neo-prohibitionist than [she] had ever wanted or envisioned." Anyway, sorry for the long post; I just think MADD doesn't face the scrutiny it deserves because nobody wants to be seen as pro-drunk driving. And remember, when you enact ineffective policies, your wasting time and resources that could be devoted to implementing policies that will actually work.

Anonymous said...

Legislation has been introduced in the New Jersey Assembley to require all people convicted of a DWI, including first offenses, to intall an interlock device, after their suspension period has ended. That is thousands of new interlock devices every year. By the way, NJ does not permit occupational drivers' licenses for anybody, a person of DWI must serve a suspension.