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Study reveals that drunk-driving deaths may be under-reported in U.S.

A new study carried out by researchers reveals that the role of alcohol in U.S. traffic deaths may be significantly under-reported.

The study used data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System which notes the blood alcohol levels of people killed in traffic accidents. They analyzed the data and compared it with data on death certificates from all the states and reported that more than 3 percent of death certificates listed alcohol as the contributing factor in fatal car crashes between the years 1999 and 2009. However, data provided by NHTSA showed that 21 percent of people who were killed in crashes were legally drunk. Results of their study were published in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The researchers who carried out the study suggested that alcohol is often not included on death certificates as the cause of death because it can take a long time to actually get the blood-alcohol test results of the victim. When a person dies, the death certificate is usually filed within three to five days of the death. However, test results to determine blood alcohol level of the individual may take longer than that.

The study also revealed that some states are more likely to include alcohol on death certificates as the cause of death compared to other states. However, the reason for this variation is not clear.

The study also revealed that about half of the states require that drivers killed in traffic crashes be tested for blood-alcohol levels currently. However, only 70 percent of those drivers are tested nationwide.

The news release published by the researchers also identified that this type of information is important for several reasons, such as for assessing the impact of policies that are meant to reduce alcohol-related deaths.

According to Ralph Hingson, with the U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who was also the study leader, “You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it. Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?”

News Source: www.CBSNews.com

AAA survey reveals that fewer motorists consider DWI a ‘very serious’ safety problem

According to a recent survey conducted by AAA, fewer motorists in New Jersey today consider drunk driving to be a ‘very serious’ safety problem. The same survey conducted four years ago showed a different result.

A total of 1,000 random motorists from around the state were participants of the survey which was conducted in November. The survey asked respondents to rank the problem of DWI. They were given 4 options to choose from:

  • “very serious”
  • “somewhat serious”
  • “not very serious” and
  • “not serious at all”

In 2009, a total of 87 percent of the participants answered “very serious,” compared to only 81 percent of respondents this year.

According to Cathleen Lewis, a spokeswoman for the AAA Clubs of New Jersey, this relaxed attitude toward DWI is troubling because attitudes can reflect behavior. “I think if people start to see it as less serious, there is the possibility that people start to slip when it comes to engaging in the activity. They might be less likely to insist on a designated driver or they might have that second drink,” she said. “I think if people start to see it as less serious there is the possibility that people start to slip when it comes to engaging in the activity,” she added.

A broad driving-related survey is conducted by AAA around the state every other year as part of its bi-annual report to the legislature. This report covers the attitude and behavior of New Jersey motorists.

Results for this year’s survey were released last week which reported fewer drivers to be texting behind the wheel as compared to a survey conducted two years ago, in late 2011. The results were 27 percent this year and 33 percent for 2011.

Similarly, respondents were asked to rank the danger of driving while under the influence of prescription medication in the November survey, and the share of drivers who answered “very dangerous” fell to 61 percent.

The survey also broke down answers to questions according to the education level of the respondents. The motorist’s level of education level and their response shows an inverse relationship when it comes to responding to the dangers of driving while on prescription drugs. For example, figures show that 88 percent of respondents with high school degrees or less education said driving on prescription drugs was either “very serious” or “somewhat serious,” whereas only 5 percent said it was “not serious at all.”

On the other hand, 83 percents of respondents who had a college degree considered it “very serious” and 7 percent said it was not serious at all. Also, 78 percent of those respondents with a master’s degrees or higher, viewed driving on prescription drugs as very or somewhat serious, while 10 percent of these highly educated respondents found it not to be serious at all.

News Source: www.NJ.com

Montgomery county woman gets 4-8 years for causing fatal accident

31-year-old Sarah Ann Derstein, of Lansdale, was sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison as a result of a an accident which resulted in the death of a teenager last year. According to police reports, Derstein was driving drunk and was reading a text message when the accident took place.

Police reports show that Derstein drove her car into a group of boys who were walking along the shoulder of the road. 15-year old Dennis Kee was killed when the car hit him and another teen was injured.

A report by the prosecutors showed that Derstein fled the accident scene but later returned to talk with the police. Her blood-alcohol level was found to be more than twice the legal limit for driving. The crash took place in April on Route 309 in Hatfield Township.

Derstein was seen weeping at the court hearing as she apologized to the victim’s relatives.

She pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide last fall along with several other charges like accidents involving bodily injury and driving under the influence. As a result of her plea, other charges such as reckless endangering and reckless driving were dropped.

Assistant District Attorney Jordan Friter sought a stiff sentence, calling Derstein a “human missile capable of destroying anything in her path” that night.

News Source: www.Philly.com

DUI case is not a Game-Changer according to Lawyers

According to the Pennsylvania defense lawyers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s refusal to accept an appeal of the Superior Court’s ruling that the accuracy of alcohol breath tests in highest-rate driving under the influence cases must be determined at trial, has taken much of the steam out of what once seemed as it can be a game-changer for DUI law.

A DUI lawyer with Wagner & Spreha in Harrisburg, Pa, Edward F. Spreha Jr., who was not involved in the case, said that Commonwealth v. Schildt, which had the potential to impact large number of pending driving under the influence cases all over Pennsylvania, is now merely “a footnote”.

According to Spreha and other DUI attorneys, the case did raise an unusual challenge to the scientific accuracy of those tests, the merits of which remain unaddressed by state appellate courts. Arguments same like that may be used either as pretrial bargaining chips or trial defenses going forward, said attorneys.

A Philadelphia DUI defense and personal injury lawyer, Cary B. McClain said, “There’s now a legitimate issue to litigate before a jury and it gives the defense bar room to negotiate for a fair compromise”.

On 25th of February, the high court denied allocator in Schildt.

Last October, defense counsel had asked the justices to take up the case, saying that allowing the accuracy of breath test proof to be determined prior to trial “promotes uniformity in the law, gives a clear signal to future litigants and is also scientifically correct”.

In September 2013, a three-judge Superior Court panel overturned Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr.’s controversial ruling in Schildt saying that alcohol breath test proof in a driving under the influence case on the grounds that Clark’s determination was premature.

Clark found that breath alcohol testing devices that were used by law enforcement cannot accurately detect BAC level above or below the calibrated range of 0.05 to 0.15% and therefore are not enough to meet the burden of evidence in highest-rate driving under the influence cases.

Lawyers said that Clark’s ruling had the potential to impact a large number of pending DUI cases all around Pennsylvania but the Superior Court never found a scientific analysis of the breath tests in its seven-page memorandum opinion, instead finding that Clark abused his discretion in granting pretrial habeas corpus relief to defendant Jason R. Schildt due to the reason that the state made at least a prima facie showing that Schildt had been driving with a BAC level of 0.16% or above.

The court wanted the case for trial.

Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen said Clark “manifestly abused” his discretion by requiring the state to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the reliability of the breath test administered to Schildt at such an early stage in the case. “In short, the trial court prematurely and improperly held the commonwealth to its burden of proof at trial, in granting appellee’s pretrial motion to quash the complaint”.

Judges Susan Peikes Gantman and Sallie Updyke Mundy were with Allen in making the decision.

Justin J. McShane of the McShane Firm in Harrisburg, said that he did not consider it to be a loss due to the reason that it merely focused on the timing of Clark’s ruling, while leaving the scientific analysis in Clark’s opinion “undisturbed”.

Schildt urged the court to address the scientific analysis in his petition to the Supreme Court, saying the case “presents the best opportunity to provide guidance on a statewide level as to this repetitive issue”. Schildt argued in the petition, “this exact matter will be litigated hundreds if not thousands of times” all over the state but now that the justices have declined to hear arguments in the case, driving under the influence defense attorneys said they don’t believe the courts will be inundated with similar challenges to breath tests.

According to them, a large number of law enforcement agencies all over Pennsylvania have moved away from breath testing to blood testing.

Spreha said, “If you want to fight it on a case-by-case basis, you have to bring in the experts and spend the cash”.

A DUI lawyers with Fairlie & Lippy in North Wales, Pa., Steven F. Fairlie said that defense experts in cases like Schildt “probably cost in the area of $20,000. The average citizen can’t afford that”.

For those defendants with the means to challenge breathe tests, according to the attorneys it can be difficult to justify advising a client to take a driving under the influence case to court.

Advising a client to challenge a breath test at trial means advising a client to risk jail time in lieu of simply accepting ARD, said Fairlie.

Spreha said that lawyers will require gauging whether judges in a particular county have exhibited a proclivity for siding with the defense when they make arguments similar to those that rose in Schildt. “If you know all the judges are finding people guilty regardless of your argument, it’s hard to say to your client, ‘Let’s try again”.

According to Spreha, jury trials are risky due to the reason of their unpredictability but lawyers did agree that the scientific challenge raised in Schildt is an interesting one that could gain traction under the right trial situations.

McClain said, “It’s a good argument and I think you could see juries getting persuaded to follow it”.

News Source: www.TheLegalIntelligencer.com

Former state trooper sentenced for fatal Upper Dublin crash

Barry M. Searfoss Jr., a former state trooper, has been sentenced for a fatal crash that took place in Upper Dublin in 2012 that resulted in the death of a woman.

According to reports, the ex-lawman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol on Tuesday in a Montgomery County Court. The two-vehicle collision took place on a section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Upper Dublin which resulted in the death of 21-year-old Robin Williams of Philadelphia.

News Source: www.TheIntell.com

 

Rule of Criminal Procedure 574 (Forensic. Laboratory Report; Certification in Lieu of Expert Report)

This rule was adopted in 2013 to address the issues raised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009), that held that the 6th amendment confrontation right precluded presentation of laboratory reports without a live witness testifying in the trial. In Melendez-Diaz, the U.S. Supreme Court noted with approval the use of ”notice and demand” procedures as a means of permitting routine laboratory reports to be admitted without the expense of supporting the admission by live expert testimony while protecting a defendant’s confrontation rights.

This rule provides a ”notice and demand” procedure for Pennsylvania. Under the rule, the attorney for the Commonwealth may seek to admit a forensic laboratory report as evidence without the testimony of the analyst who performed the testing that was the subject of the report if notice requirements are met and no demand for the presence of the analyst is made. If the defendant makes such a demand, the analyst would be required to testify before the report could be admitted into evidence.

Nothing in this rule is intended to preclude a stipulation agreed to by the parties for the admission of the laboratory report without the analyst’s presence.

For cause shown, the judge may extend the time period of filing a demand for live testimony or grant a continuance of the trial.

For purposes of paragraph (D)(2) of this rule, a laboratory is ”accredited” when its management, personnel, quality system, operational and technical procedures, equipment and physical facilities meet standards established by a recognized state, national, or international accrediting organization such as the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accrediting Board (ASCLD/LAB) or Forensic Quality Services—International (FQS-I).
 
Rule 574. Forensic Laboratory Report; Certification in Lieu of Expert Testimony

  1. In any trial, the attorney for the Commonwealth may seek to offer into evidence a forensic laboratory report supported by a certification, as provided in paragraph (D), in lieu of testimony by the person who performed the analysis or examination that is the subject of the report.
  2. Notice
    1. If the attorney for the Commonwealth intends to offer the report as provided in paragraph (A) as evidence at trial, the attorney for the Commonwealth shall serve upon the defendant’s attorney, or if unrepresented, the defendant a written notice of that fact at the time of the disclosure of the report but no later than 20 days prior to the start of trial.
    2. A copy of the report shall be provided to the defendant prior to or contemporaneously with the notice.
    3. Except as provided in paragraph (C), the report and certification are admissible in evidence to the same effect as if the person who performed the analysis or examination had personally testified.
  3. Demand
    1. No later than 10 days following receipt of the notice provided in paragraph (B), the defendant’s attorney, or if unrepresented, the defendant may serve upon the attorney of the Commonwealth, a written demand for the person who performed the analysis or examination that is the subject of the report to testify at trial.
    2. If a written demand is filed, the report and certificate are not admissible under paragraph (B)(3) unless the analyst testifies.
    3. If no demand for live testimony is made to the use of the laboratory report and certificate within the time allowed by this section, the report and certificate are admissible in evidence.
  4. Certification
    1. The analyst who performed the analysis or examination that is the subject of the report shall complete a certificate in which the analyst shall state:
      1. that he or she is qualified by education, training, and experience to perform the analysis;
      2. a description of his or her regular duties;
      3. the name and location of the laboratory where the analysis was performed; and
      4. that the tests were performed under industry-approved procedures or standards and the report accurately reflects the analyst’s findings and opinions regarding the results of those tests or analysis.
    2. An analyst employed by a laboratory that is accredited by a state, national, or international accreditation entity may, in lieu of the required certificate under paragraph (D)(1), submit a copy of the laboratory’s accreditation certificate.

Official Note: New Rule 574 adopted 2012, effective 2012.
 

Chesco county state senator proposes ignition interlocks for DUI offenders

This week, a hearing on legislation that will expand the installation of ignition interlocks in drunken driving cases will be held in Harrisburg. The legislation was proposed by a Chester County’s state senator.

The state Senate Transportation Committee will hold the hearing on Rafferty’s legislation, SB 1036, which will make the installation of ignition interlock mandatory in the vehicles of individuals convicted of DUI.

Sen. John Rafferty who is the head of the state Senate Transportation Committee is forcing the residents to contact their representatives in Harrisburg for supporting the legislation.

Last week, MADD President Jan Withers said, “Currently, Pennsylvania law requires ignition interlocks only for repeat offenders. SB 1036 will strengthen the law to require ignition interlocks for first-time convicted drunk drivers with an illegal blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater for at least six months”. 20 states have interlock laws like that in place, said Withers.

The repeat DUI offenses are decreased by 67 percent with the help of ignition interlocks said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Withers  also  said, “States that are enforcing all-offender ignition interlock laws, such as Arizona and Oregon have seen a reduction in DUI deaths by 43 to 42 percent, largely due to these comprehensive laws requiring all drunk drivers to receive an interlock”.

The law will be amended and it will change the current provision that requires the installation of interlocks in only those individual’s vehicles with drunk driving conviction and license suspension for 1 year or more than that. If the legislation sponsored by Rafferty is passed, the 1st time DUI offenders face mandatory use of the interlock devices.

Last fall, Rafferty said, “This will prevent people who are pulled over and convicted of DUI from getting onto the highway again and be able to harm someone. I am hopeful this will awaken first offenders that they may have a problem”.

An ignition interlock is a device which requires a breath sample for testing the BAC level of a driver before it allows the engine of the vehicle to start. If the BAC level is determined more than the legal limit of driving than the engine will not start. Breath samples are also required after regular intervals of time while the vehicle is in motion to prevent a sober friend from starting the vehicle by providing the breath sample. If the individual will not provide a sample or a sample BAC limit is over certain blood alcohol content limit than it will result in the sounding of alarms.

On Friday, District Attorney Tom Hogan said in a statement, “Drunk driving offenders, and particularly recidivist offenders, are somebody’s death waiting to happen. Tools like the ignition interlock will help us save lives. Drunk drivers will try to think up ways to get around the interlock device, but the game of adapting to stay one step ahead of criminals is the story of law enforcement”.

On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee hearing will be held.

News Source: www.DelcoTimes.com

Ignition Interlocks proposed for first-time DUI offenders

A warning has been given to all individuals not to drink and drive in the next couple of weeks because there is a nationwide crackdown on impaired driving and local police will be looking for drivers driving under the influence on the roads.

The annual holiday crackdown on impaired driving was started earlier this week by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Governors Highway Safety Association, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland along with representatives from law enforcement.

In a statement, Foxx said, “With the help of our law enforcement partners, we’re sending a message across the country, today and throughout the holiday season – Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over”.

New guidelines on ignition interlock programs to help states develop and implement a breath-alcohol ignition interlock program were also released by NHTSA. It includes the installation of interlock devices in vehicles of first-time DUI offenders.

Foxx added, “With the release of our model guidelines for ignition interlock programs, we’re helping states improve their efforts to enforce safe driving among convicted offenders”.

All states order installation of interlocks in any way to keep DUI offenders from driving drunk and making people unsafe on the roads, according to the Detroit News, but in only twenty states and four California counties, installation of interlock devices is mandatory for drunk drivers. Interlock is an onboard Breathalyzer-type device to which the driver has to give a breath sample before the car starts and the device doesn’t allow the car’s engine to start if it detects alcohol in the user’s breath.

“States to adopt our new guidelines to protect sober motorists and ensure that individuals convicted of drunk driving learn from their mistakes”, Strickland said.

A research was conducted by NHTSA on drunk drivers and the result shows, “75 percent less likely to repeat the behavior compared to those who do not”.

In 2012, fatalities in accident involving drunk drivers increased 4.6% and claimed lives of 10,322 individuals. In 2011, the number of people who died due to drunk driving was 9,865. According to the agency, most of those accidents involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or higher which is almost double the legal limit of 0.08%. 830 deaths occurred as a result of drunk driving accidents during last year’s holiday season. Almost two of every five deaths (41 percent) that occur around New Year’s Day and Christmas (37 percent) were because of drunk driving, over the past decade.

In a struggle to increase alcohol-related road fatalities, the National Transportation Safety Board proposed decreasing the national limit for blood alcohol content from 0.08% to 0.05% last year.

NTSB’s stance was not supported by the NHTSA and MADD, NHTSA said it was “premature” to recommend a decreased in limit because it didn’t have data to support the conclusion that there would be a decrease in fatalities.

The campaign and accompanying law enforcement crackdown began on 13th of December and it will end on 1st of January. It is supported by $7.5 million in national ads on TV and radio. NHTSA’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” message will also be featured in a new public service announcement.

News Source: www.MSN.com

Driving with a hangover could be as dangerous as drunk driving

According to a Medical Daily report, 2 studies conducted recently showed that getting behind the wheel with a hangover can be as dangerous as driving under the influence.

Researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and from the University of the West of England in the U.K. passed the study participants through a series of driving tests that mimicked highway driving in one study. The night prior to the tests, all participants had consumed an average of ten drinks.

There was no alcohol present in the system of any participant but they were observed driving erratically and they were also not able to focus on their driving. Their BAC level results were comparable to those individuals who drive with a BAC level of 0.05%.

Same researchers conducted a second study in which they issued driving tests to the participants. The tests were related to stop-and-go traffic. Researchers told that they observed delayed reactions of the drivers and the speed of all the vehicles were not consistent.

Researchers hope that their studies will create awareness about the risks and the dangers of driving a motor vehicle after a night of drinking alcohol. They said that individuals experiencing a hangover also face problems such as dehydration and sleep deprivation which can make driving dangerous.

Senior researcher at the Center for Accident Research and Road Safety at the Queensland University of Technology, Dr. Mark King said, “We have a law that’s based on blood alcohol concentration. There’s no real way of measuring how hungover someone is. So we’re a bit limited in what we can do. All we can really do is provide advice to people and say your driving could be affected just as badly as if you were under the influence of alcohol as when you’re hungover”.

News Source: www.FoxNews.com

N.J. bill to ban texting at a spotlight

TRENTON – State Sen. Richard Codey is looking to expand the current state law to ban drivers from talking and texting on their cell phones while at a spotlight. This law will also apply to those drivers who are temporarily stuck in a traffic jam, at a red light or any other stop sign.

The bill was proposed to the legislation last week. According to Codey, under the current driving law, if you are drunk and at a red light, you will get a DUI. The new bill will also require the written driver’s license test to include questions on distracted driving as it is an as dangerous issue as drunk driving.

With this new bill, Codey aims to put the state of New Jersey in line with federal standards for the Distracted Driving Grant Program. His aim is that the state gets federal money to combat distracted driving. Since the current state law does not include distracted driving, the state is not currently eligible for the grant.

“At the end of the day, we want money to discourage people from driving while distracted,” said Codey. He does not know how much he could get with this bill, but a total of $17.5 million was reserved by the federal Department of Transportation last year to be made available to states which have distracted driving laws.

In June, a bill was signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie that dramatically increased penalties for drivers who are driving while talking or texting on their cell phones. The bill which is expected to take effect in July will increase fines for a first time offense for drivers arrested for distracted driving. Fines for a first time offense will increase from $100 to between $200 and $400. Fines will be higher for repeat offenders of at least $400 and third time offenders will be fined at least $600. Third time offenders may also have their driver’s license suspended for up to three months as ordered by a judge.

Apart from the support being received by the new bill, a representative of the National Motorists Association in New Jersey, Steve Carrellas, was not happy about the proposal. He thought it would be counterproductive. According to Carrellas, there may be people who want to check their mobile phone on a red light for messages so they can pull over safely and respond to the email or message if it is important.

“This federal lust for dictating terms of a grant is counterproductive to avoiding distraction by cell phones,” he said. According to him, it is all about the money.

According to Codey, the bill has not been introduced in the Assembly yet and he is not sure what chance the bill has of moving in the Legislature. The two-year legislative session will end in a couple of sessions and if the bill has not passed both houses by January, it will have to be reintroduced. Codey really hopes to get the bill passed so the new, harsher penalties for using a cell phone while driving will take effect next year. Codey is looking to get it done before July 1 of 2014 so they have a huge campaign under way in New Jersey. According to Codey, the more people read about this, the bigger issue it becomes.

News Source: www.NJ.com

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