Obama puts MADD chief in charge of highway-safety agency

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2009

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is anything but an uncontroversial organization, as the Washington Times, Radley Balko, and our own archives make clear. Among the bad, sometimes awful ideas with which it has been identified are a reduction of the blood alcohol limit to .04 (meaning that for some adults a single drink could result in arrest), blanket police roadblocks and pullovers, the 55 mph speed limit, traffic-cams, and the imprisonment of parents who knowingly permit teen party drinking, to name but a few. Of particular interest when it comes to the policies of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it has backed proposed legislation demanding that costly breathalyzer-ignition interlock systems be foisted on all new cars, whether or not their drivers have ever committed a DUI offense; it’s also lined up with the plaintiff’s bar on various dubious efforts to expand liability.

Now President Obama has named MADD CEO Chuck Hurley to head NHTSA. Drivers, car buyers, and the American public had better brace themselves for a season of neo-Prohibitionist rhetoric, nannyist initiatives, and efforts to criminalize now-lawful conduct. It won’t be pretty.

More: Coyote Blog (“What, was Ralph Nader busy?”)

{ 3 trackbacks }

Never Yet Melted » New Worst Appontment
04.26.09 at 9:35 am
April 30 roundup
04.30.09 at 4:17 pm
“Enviros Forced NHTSA Nominee To Withdraw”
05.14.09 at 12:42 am

{ 19 comments }

1 Bob Neal 04.25.09 at 7:13 am

Exactly what qualifications does the CEO of a drunk driving advocacy group have to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which deals heavily in engineering? This administration is aiming to irreparably change our lives, not for the better, in 4 years – knowing the backlash is likey to result in ouster, but also knowing that much that is foisted on us will be hard to reverse.

2 Kurt 04.25.09 at 7:22 am

You may want to correct your story. I think you mean 0.04% and not 0.4%. People die at 0.4% or can be in a coma. I don’t think they should be driving either;-)

3 Griffin3 04.25.09 at 8:16 am

What Kurt said.

4 Walter Olson 04.25.09 at 8:26 am

You’re quite right. Decimal point should be in the right place now.

5 L.C. Burgundy 04.25.09 at 10:25 am

Wow, I’m calling it now: Rachel Weintraub (or some suitable facsimile) will be named as O’s new CPSC commissioner.

6 Connie Ballas 04.25.09 at 11:14 am

Perhaps MADD’s Chuck Hurley could get together with CPSIA supporters and craft a law that forces everyone to take a breathalyzer test every time before starting their car to prove they haven’t been drinking. How safe we would all be then!

7 Madison 04.25.09 at 2:31 pm

This makes me uneasy.

MADD’s been getting crazier and crazier and relying on paternalism and scare tactics to keep us safe from ourselves.

8 Greg 04.25.09 at 5:43 pm

Unfortunately, if the NHTSA under Mr. Hurley wants to mandate breathalyzer ignition interlock systems in new cars, there’s not much we can do to stop it. The battle has already been lost because the principle has already been conceded to them. The principle is: do we own our own lives and do we have the right to decide for ourselves what risks we will take with them? The people who believe we don’t won long ago. Mandatory airbags in cars, mandatory seatbelts, mandatory helmets for motorcycle riders; all of these things can be justified only if we accept that the government has the right to force safety upon us, to forbid us from taking risks. Mandatory breathalyzer equipment is no different in principle. And since almost everyone now accepts the rightness of the government forcing airbags, seatbelts, and helmets on us, it’s going to be tough fighting against mandatory breathalyzer systems on any sort of principled grounds.

9 Patrick 04.26.09 at 2:17 pm

Let’s stop for a moment to remember MADD founder Candace Lightner’s argument to the effect that military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, for that matter, the United States), should reinstate the 18th amendment:

She ranted that 18-year-olds haven’t “developed, and that’s exactly why the draft age is 18, because these kids are malleable.” She added: “They will follow the leader, they don’t think for themselves, and they are the last ones I want to say, ‘Here’s a gun, and here’s a beer.’ They are not adult—that’s why they’re in the military. They are not adults.”

I’m sure that every officer in the United States military, commissioned or not, would be glad to hear that s/he’s a child. Now we can add this view to NHTSA. Child safety seats for all!

10 Andrew_M_Garland 04.26.09 at 3:24 pm

A keycode lock would seem reasonable, but of course intrusive. The lock shows a sequence of numbers; the driver must repeat the sequence quickly enough to assure the system that he isn’t drunk.

A breathalyzer lock is too easy to fool. Who is going to watch the driver? The driver can use a pressurized can of air or a bicycle pump, or who knows what.

11 bailey 04.26.09 at 4:22 pm

Chuck Hurley ran the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for many years. That’s hardly a radical group, and it’s devoted to a research-based approach to highway safety issues. I think he’s a really smart guy and well-qualified to run NHTSA.

12 russ 04.26.09 at 7:24 pm

Does this mean that Obama is not planning to eliminate the automobile? Now I’m really disappointed.

13 Douglas2 04.27.09 at 12:17 am

IIHS devoted to a research-based approach? Did you know that if you google “flawed report, passed off as scientific research” every single link provided relates to the IIHS?

14 Benjamin 04.27.09 at 5:51 pm

Officer: Have you been drinking?
Driver: I have a new car with an interlock.
Officer: We have a breathalyzer that is more prone to false positives. We’ll go by it.

Or will it be an affirmative defense in court?

15 bailey 04.29.09 at 5:54 pm

Wow, a motorcycle industry lobbyist once criticized one of their reports, I guess they’re really not a research-based group.

16 Walter Olson 04.30.09 at 8:44 am

I don’t intend to get into sweeping generalizations about the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety one way or the other, but if you wonder why someone’s former employment with that organization might not be viewed as any guarantee of the general soundness of their later research or advocacy, this article may help.

17 GR 04.30.09 at 1:34 pm

The Balko blog has a comment contains a wonderful quote that’s worth repeating here:

“It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.” — C. S. Lewis

18 Patrick 04.30.09 at 3:48 pm

I will make a generalization about the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: its interests and those of its principals, if not its methodology, align perfectly with those of MADD. Insurance companies would happily mandate the abolition of a number of risky (but pleasurable) activities, and impose all sorts of draconian restrictions on ordinary life, to reduce their exposure.

In the end an insurance company is focused on its bottom line, like any other business. Risk reduction may be fine business for insurance companies, but I’m sure most would no more want to live in a world insurers controlled than one governed by MADD.

I don’t know anything about flaws in IIHS’s methodologies, but I can certainly guess its agenda. An insurance company is a harsh nanny.

19 Tom 05.13.09 at 9:49 pm

Chuck Hurley is a great guy and would have done a terrific job. The country is losing the opportunity to have someone of his caliber Its tha “luck of the Irish” to have this happen

Comments on this entry are closed.