Raised on Hoecakes catches a NHTSA impaired-driving program telling a whopper:
“THE DAYS OF BEATING A DRUNK DRIVING ARREST HAVE BEEN RULED EXTINCT….
“If you are arrested, you will be prosecuted and likely lose your license, money and car.”
As Raised on Hoecakes says:
“Cool, huh? Only one problem: it isn’t true. Someone missed the memo telling judges to make arrests for DUI a resulting conviction 100% of the time.” In Florida, to take one state he says is representative, there were 55,722 DUI tickets and 33,625 DUI convictions in 2011, and although not all cases are closed the same year they begin, the estimated conviction rate still must run closer to 60 percent than 100 percent. Nor is it true that all arrests result in prosecution: prosecutors decline to press some charges where they deem the evidence in hand to be weak, and almost everyone, with the possible exception of certain hosts of TV crime shows, agrees that’s as it should be.
I suppose the generous way to interpret untruths like the ones on this poster would be as a fancier way to say, “Don’t drive drunk, you’ll get caught.” But they also send a rather more disturbing message: “If arrested on DUI and you believe the government’s case against you is weak, better not fight, just take a plea. Because it doesn’t matter how strong your defense is, a judge won’t save you.”
Presumably that second message is unintentional. [More: Scott Greenfield]
We now know that the panicky tales of electronics-driven sudden acceleration in Toyotas, as urged on the nation by trial lawyer allies like Clarence Ditlow and Joan Claybrook, were sheerest fantasy. That’s no real surprise, since earlier reports of mechanically arising sudden acceleration in Audis and other brands of automobile (also urged on the nation by Ditlow et al.) proved equally imaginary.
But the media never learns, and if they don’t, why should the government? So the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing a rule that would require all auto designs to include “override” systems which shut off the accelerator if the brake is pressed. This will have no effect at all on typical “sudden acceleration” accidents, which arise from drivers’ hitting the wrong pedal, since those drivers already imagine themselves to be hitting the brake. They will have little if any effect on the extremely rare floor mat entrapment cases in which an accelerator gets trapped in the depressed position, because drivers can already overcome such acceleration by pressing the brake pedal if it is available, while if it is not available because of mats or other obstructions, the efficacy of the override may fall short of what is hoped.
But at least the government will be able to say that it did something.
I did find it interesting in the Washington Post account that Ditlow seems for the moment to have joined the rest of us in agreeing that pedal misapplication is the big cause of these accidents, the better to afford him a vantage point to criticize NHTSA for Not Doing Enough on that front. That’s quite a change from what you hear from him at the height of these panics, when he tends to talk up every possible cause of unwanted acceleration other than driver error. When the next sudden-acceleration panic breaks out, I fully expect CAS to be back pitching the electronics theories again.
P.S. Plaintiff’s lawyer and longtime Overlawyered favorite Steve Berman asserts that there have been “thousands of crashes, hundreds of deaths,” a claim the National Law Journal’s Amanda Bronstad relays without skeptical comment.
I explain at Cato at Liberty.
P.S. Also, welcome listeners from Richmond, Va.’s WRVA, which had me on to discuss these issues this morning. And a retrospective on the Toyota scare from The Truth About Cars’ Edward Niedermeyer.
The Washington Post — unlike some other newspapers we might think of — doesn’t mind letting its editorial stance catch up with the facts on the ground as they appear to NHTSA staff. We’ve been on the story for quite a while.
A new report in the WSJ quotes a retiring NHTSA official as saying higher-ups are refusing to release the results of the agency’s staff investigation into charges of Toyota sudden acceleration, because those findings are not unfavorable enough toward the automaker. I’ve got more detail in a new post at Cato at Liberty, and Ted covers the story at PoL.
Meanwhile, proponents of a sweeping expansion of federal auto safety law, one that would thrust Washington much more deeply into the operations of the automotive industry, are really in a hurry — a quick, urgent, must-do-now hurry — to pass it, even though many of its provisions have not had much airing in public debate. An editorial today in the New York Times — a newspaper that almost comically underplayed the revelations earlier this month about the NHTSA probe’s pro-Toyota results — flatly asserts that the Japanese automaker’s vehicles suffer “persistent problems of uncontrolled acceleration,” and demands that the sweeping new legislation “be passed into law without delay.” It’s almost as if they are afraid of what might happen if lawmakers pause to take a closer look.
Among the many other things the new legislation would do is greatly enhance the legal leverage of automaker or dealership employees who adopt the mantle of “whistleblowers”. But if the new revelations from a responsible career employee of NHTSA are ignored, we will have another confirmation that some types of whistleblowing are more welcome in America’s governing class than others. (& welcome Coyote, Gabriel Malor, Death by 1000 Papercuts, Mark Hemingway/D.C. Examiner (“the indispensable Overlawyered blog”), Allen McDuffee/Think Tanked readers).
Courtesy Michael Fumento.
P.S. More seriously, Fumento has a piece out in the new Forbes about how weaknesses in the NHTSA consumer database helped fuel the Toyota panic. He provides damning details about how press outlets like CBS News, the L.A. Times and U.S. News turned “a motley collection of anecdotes, many of them absurd” in which “anybody can enter anything” into assertions that Toyota acceleration has “caused” or “led to” 89 or more deaths. Read it here, with more at CEI.
Except that even a cursory reading of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s news release should have kept the magazine from jumping to any such conclusion. Michael Fumento explains.
Michael Fumento warns that the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “has no category for ‘sudden acceleration,’ merely a ‘speed control’ category.” The result is that many complaints of lack of acceleration can wind up getting counted and cited as if they supported the trial lawyers’ case.
The Truth About Cars has the details. I’ve got a bunch of background links at Point of Law.
Chuck Hurley withdrew not because of the many liberty-hostile positions taken by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but because of one of the issues on which he was right, namely, recognizing that there’s a tradeoff between fuel-economy-regulation-driven downsizing of vehicles and occupant safety, an inconvenient truth some environmental and consumer groups would rather not acknowledge. [National Journal, Fleet Owner, AP/Tacoma News Tribune]
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?”)