Driving Drunk in San Francisco? Maybe You're Weren't

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
driving drunk in san francisco maybe you re weren t

From the nice folks at Slashdot comes a story of police laziness that may end up resulting in the reversal of “hundreds, maybe thousands” of drunk-driving convictions over the past six years.

There’s a billboard near my hometown that says “Drunk Driving: Ohio’s Scarlet Letter”. That’s a bit of hype, since Ohio, like many other states, has turned the low-criminal-penalty, fine-intensive prosecution of drunk driving into a cash cow for many courts. Many attorneys, as well; the first Ferrari 360 I ever saw in the wild belonged to a famous Columbus DUI attorney.

The fiscal rewards of prosecuting drunk drivers, together with the fact that impaired vehicle operation is perhaps one of the few remaining frontiers where significant reductions in vehicular fatalities can be achieved nationwide, mean that very few law-enforcement agencies treat the topic with anything other than the utmost sincerity and seriousness. On the other side of the aisle, we have the SFPD. For at least six years, the SFPD officers in charge of the department’s breathalyzers didn’t bother to test or calibrate the equipment, instead simply entering the suggested control values into the test results.

It is worth noting that “fuel cell” breathalyzers, which are the only types approved for evidentiary use in the United States, require calibration at least every six months to prevent significant drift, so six years without a calibration could mean that a lot of people were wrongly convicted — or that a lot of people went free, depending on the direction of the drift.

The potential for civil damage suits has to be something just barely short of stupdendous; people can and do get fired for DUI (unless you are a “supercitizen”) and the cumulative effect of years’ worth of lost wages, child custody issues, further criminal penalties, increased insurance rates, and so on will likely require a pretty stout calculator to add up.

Could this lead to a decreased reliance on breathalyzers in the field for police departments worried about liability, machine error, and so on? Let’s hope not: as history shows, if the cops can’t Breathalyze you, they may go Twilight on yo’ ass.

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2 of 28 comments
  • Mikey Mikey on Mar 10, 2012

    With all due respect to America, and Americans, you guys have know idea how soft and forgiving your D.U.I laws are. Corrrect me if I'm wrong,but I think Ontario has tougher laws,than any of the US states. British Columbia is even tougher. If I have two regular strength beers and get stopped by a Cop thats having a bad day,I'm in deep ka ka. Make that four beers,and I might as well take 50,000 dollars,and flush it down the toilet. I could probably hold up the local Beer Store,and plea bargain my way out of it. But God forbid I should drink any of my ill gotten beer before I drive my getaway car.

  • Junebug Junebug on Mar 12, 2012

    A friend of mine left a bar, drove exactly 2 blocks to his home, got out and was arrested for DUI. He blew the .08 that NC says is the limit. Did he weave or run off the road? No, did he speed or do anything to alert the cops he was "impared"? No. He spent $5,000.00 to go to court, plus hundreds more on increased auto insurance, all because a local town cop followed him home after seeing him leave a bar. I know, you're thinking, why the heck didn't he just walk, and to be honest, I'm sure he wished he would have. But, like this story points out, we're convicting a guy on the basis of a machine that may or may not be calibrated. And also, .08 - really? I know MADD would probably love to see that go lower but jeez man. You want to make the roads safer? Target Jerry the Geezer with his 20-800 cateracts and couldn't hear a RPG if it landed beside him, or Suzi the sexy secretary with the iphone, make-up, and McBreakfast all going at once, or and this one really boils my nuts, Paco the Taco, he's here illegally, got no insurance, license or anything but 5 kids in school, one on the way and can't drive from sh!t. But OMG dat's RAY-CIST, yeah, right cry me a river and I'll introduce you to a neighbor that lost a daughter to Paco in a head on that occured when he crossed the line right in front of her.

  • Ajla From what I can see in the NHTSA data nontire part failures make up about .5% of reported crashes and aren't listed as a cause in the fatal accident reports. While we've all seen hoopties rolling around I'm guessing they don't go far or fast enough for many negative outcomes to occur from their operation.While I wouldn't want to be in that .5% I'd also want to avoid a "Bear Patrol" situation. When it comes to road safety nontire part failures are more like animal attacks while aggressive or impaired driving are heart disease and cancer.
  • Art Vandelay On the right spec truck, that is a screaming bargain for the price. And you can buy it safe knowing that as it is a Ford you'll never have your vehicle's good name sullied by seeing EBFlex and Tassos puffing each other's peters in one...a nice bonus to the horsepower!
  • Art Vandelay Too small for Tassos and EBFlex to puff each other's peters in.
  • Spookiness I can see revising requirements for newer vehicles, like 3 years, but not for older. I live in a state with safety inspections next to a state without, within a common metro-area commute "shed." Besides the fact that the non-inspection state has a lot of criminals to begin with, they're poorer, less educated, have a lot of paper-tag shady dealers, very lax law enforcement of any kind, and not much of a culture of car maintenance. It's all of their janky hoopties dead or burning on the side of the road every mile that farks up the commute for the rest of us. Having a car inspected just once a year is a minimal price of civilization, and at least is some basic defense against some of the brake-less, rusted-out heaps that show up on YouTubes "Just Rolled In."
  • Pippin Republicans Senators - "We refuse to support your nomination because you don't have a background in traffic safety! That's the priority!"Biden nominates someone with a background in traffic safetyRepublican Senators - "This new nominee is totally unacceptable! They're in favor of new regulations to improve traffic safety! We need big government out of (men's) lives!"