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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Western Standard readers choose liberty over security in ignition interlock debate

In “0-TOLRNC for Alberta drivers” I ask the question “why not make the ignition interlock program mandatory for all Alberta drivers?”

In case you missed my post, an ignition interlock device is an alcohol-sensing device that attaches to a vehicle’s ignition system. When alcohol is detected in a breath sample, the driver is not able to start his or her vehicle.

There is little doubt that this device will keep impaired drivers off the road. In fact, Guardian Interlock, the company that makes the device, claims that they’ve kept 4,931,988 intoxicated drivers off the road.

Despite this information, Western Standard readers responded to my question by arguing that liberty is more important than security in this particular instance.

(Score one for liberty in her losing battle with security.)

I’ll take advantage of this consensus to now make a case against the Mandatory Ignition Interlock Program as it is currently configured. As of July 1, the program makes it mandatory for a repeat offender or a driver convicted at double the legal blood alcohol limit to pay for the installation of this device in his or her vehicle. For a minimum of six months, the driver will have to provide a breath sample each time the vehicle is started and when random samples are demanded.

The ignition interlock system is marketed as a zero tolerance program meaning that virtually any alcohol consumption will stop the vehicle from working. The safe and legal level of blood alcohol is currently 0.08, although I’m told by industry professionals that charges are not typically laid unless the alcohol limit is at least 0.10. (I’m also told that impairment is barely visibly noticeable at these levels.)

With its zero tolerance approach, the Alberta Transportation and Safety Board, which administers the program, seems to be suggesting that there is no safe level of blood alcohol when driving.

It is not hard to imagine a situation where a legally sober driver can’t start his or her vehicle in an emergency situation because of a 0.04 blood alcohol level reading, half the legal limit. If it helps, picture a child in need of medical care and a helpless father unable to start his car because hours earlier he had a single glass of wine.

Once the device is installed, it is only removed at the discretion of the Alberta Transportation and Safety Board. Every breath sample is collected and analyzed by a private company and sent to the Board. If low levels of alcohol are present often enough in the samples, the device stays in place and the driver can be forced into alcohol treatment, even if the driver was never legally impaired.

We are moving needlessly toward a zero tolerance approach to drinking-and-driving where no blood alcohol level is legally permissible. And, in the process, we are embracing technology that will no doubt become increasingly pervasive, putting our privacy and liberty at risk.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on August 7, 2008 in Canadian Provincial Politics | Permalink


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"Western Standard readers responded to my question by arguing that liberty is more important than security in this particular instance.... I’ll take advantage of this consensus...."

Are you serious? Four people responded to your post. Four. Is that what the term "Western Standard readers" means? Four people who happened to reply to a blog post? And this ammounts to a "consensus" worth trumpeting? So does that mean you are happy if this site has only a population of readers who can be counted on one hand of a chatacter from The Simpsons? That is sad.

It also might be worth pointing out thaty since the post was pro-lock and you even replied in the thread with another pro-lock comment that other pro-lock readers who might have read the thread were less likely to comment than anti-lock readers who would want to challenge what you said.

But that's a much smaller point here. The big story is that you consider four people to constitute (at the very least) a quorum for WS readers. No wonder the print magazine never turned a profit!

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-08-07 10:31:10 AM

FC: Poking holes in everyone else is the easiest job in the world. Do you have an "on point" arguement about the interlock?

Posted by: Opinion | 2008-08-07 10:46:30 AM

We have no rules for quorum on the Shotgun, Fact Check. And our traffic is doing very well actually. Peter announced recently that our blogged has moved into the top ten category and our main website numbers remain good even when compared against the pre-magazine-shutdown period.

August is a little quiet for media, which is why the Western Standard didn't publish a magazine over July-August.

As for the consensus, I'll take what I can get.

Why don't you apply your able mind to the content of my post?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-08-07 10:53:11 AM

Fact Check, following the principle of charity, I made the best case I could for the pro-ignition interlock position to see if there would be any takers, and to generate a discussion on the tension between liberty and security.

If anything, I prejudiced my own position, which is obviously opposed to the device.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-08-07 11:04:11 AM


(1) "As for the consensus, I'll take what I can get." Four people? It's still sad.

(2) "Why don't you apply your able mind to the content of my post?" I did. The content of this post was about the "fact" that there is a "consensus" of WS readers against the locks.

(3) "Why don't you apply your able mind to the content of my post?" Oh. Did you mean the original post about the locks? Ok. Here goes:

-- (i) I'm against them.
-- (ii) I bet most regular readers of this blog knew right away that you didn't really support the locks. It would have been inconsistent with just about everything else you have ever posted. So your "prejudicing" your own view only would be believed by irregulars here or the dumbest readers.
-- (iii) Given that there is no live debate on generally installing these locks and you were not seriously supporting them, I suspect most readers filed your post in the "who cares?" file. That explains the fact it only got four replies. Only the lunatic fringe took your obvious bait. They are the few, the proud, the "Western Standard readers".

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-08-07 11:25:42 AM

You're not reading below the fold, Fact Check.

And since we are increasingly called upon to give up our freedom for security, my question was not on the fringe of this debate. In fact, given that the safety benefits of this device are irrefutable and that impaired driving is almost universally despised, I was not expecting a consensus, however small.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-08-07 11:41:34 AM

"You're not reading below the fold, Fact Check."

Yes, you are right. My "who cares?" filter blocked it out. And from the facts that no one has replied to anything below the fold and the original post got 4 replies, I would say that most "who cares?" filters are also blocking it out. More evidence that it is a pretty fringe "issue".

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-08-07 12:20:35 PM

Ever get the feeling that some people just enjoy the argument and would rather it continue than it should lead to logical conclusions? That's a "politician" trying to burst out. haha

And as for more security?...no the government doesn't need to "do anything"...but the government DOES need to UNDO one hell of a lot of things.

Posted by: JC | 2008-08-07 6:44:44 PM

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