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Q & A With John V. Moulden

Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2000, 1 p.m. EDT

John V. Moulden is president of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit organization dedicated to minimizing the losses from motor vehicle crashes.

Moulden is also the head of Transportation Safety Associates. He has previously served with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He also has served on the National Board of Directors of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and was their National Vice President for Public Policy.

Across Montgomery County, drunken drivers who have been arrested time and again, who repeatedly violate probation and who have killed others remain on the roads. The benefit from legal loopholes and a court system that often resolves drunken-driving arrests by reducing charges and giving light sentences, The Washington Post found.

These practices are detailed in the three-part series, One More for the Road: A County's High Tolerance:

  • Part One: Across Montgomery, repeat drunken drivers, who violate probation and who have killed others, remain on the roads.

  • Part Two: The county's system benefits chronic drunken drivers who quickly learn legal maneuvers to return to the road.

  • Part Three: When examining the problem, there is a lot of finger-pointing. Remedies, meanwhile, have been slow to come.

    Other Live Onlines in this Series:

    The Defense's Perspective
    The Prosecutor's Perspective
    The Reporter's Perspective
    The Activist's Perspective

    Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

    washingtonpost.com: Welcome to our discussion with John Moulden, president of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving.

    Manassas, VA: Good Afternoon Mr. Moulden:

    When are we going to get around to lowering the legal driving BAC to something realistic? A couple years back, my employer sponsored a demonstration of the effects of alcohol on motor skills. Since I do enjoy an occasional beer or two, I "volunteered" for the demonstration. After 5 beers in about an hour, my BAC was .07. Although I felt ok, I WAS LOADED. I could barely stand up straight, much less drive a car (other than possibly into the nearest ditch). I'm a fairly big guy (5-10, 180). What can we do to convince the general population that .10 is DRUNK and that .08 is DRUNK. Is the spirits industry that well connected? I recall seeing that the average person pulled over for DUI blows a .15. These people have a problem and need to be gotten off the road.

    John V. Moulden: The National Commission strongly supports setting .08 as the per se threshold for intoxication. As you know Texas recently lowered their limit to .08. We need to do a better job educating the public, legislators, the hospitality industry and others that .08 is a dangerous level of alcohol, at which no one should be driving.

    Arlington, Virginia: Mr. Moulden,

    Anti-drunk driving groups often trot out the outrageous conduct of chronic repeat DWI/DUI offenders, such as those described in The Post this week. But when proposing new laws, they bait-and-switch: higher drinking ages, lower BAC limits, and mandatory license suspensions for first or second time offenders. These laws have no effect on the most dangerous repeat offenders.

    At the same time, problem (binge) drinking among young people has risen steadily since the 21 drinking age -- a direct result of making college drinking unlawful (and unsupervised). Now most (52% of) college students "drink to get drunk". (The number who drink at all is only slightly lower, from 79% to 68% from '86 to '98)

    Shouldn't you refocus your efforts to where it could do more good (i.e. stiffer laws against repeat offenders)?

    John V. Moulden: There is no reason why we all should not do both! One reason we have repeat offenders is that they were not properly dealt with the FIRST time they were arrested for DWI. One thing we learned long ago is that when we arrest drinking drivers, we have a great opportunity to address their alcohol abuse problem at an earlier age. What we advocate is that every DWI arrested should have an alcohol assessment to determine their level of dependency. Courts can then refer them to the appropriate alcohol treatment in addition to the driver's license and other sanctions when convicted.

    Washington DC: I would like to know if the people being convicted of drinking & driving are under age or of legal age? Why are there bars or events that drinking is a part of in locations where public transportation is inaccessible?

    John V. Moulden: Drinking drivers come in all ages. While we have seen a reduction in alcohol-related deaths for those under age 21 over the past decade, this reduction has leveled out and may increase over the next year. The majority of drunk drivers tend to be in the 21-34 age group.

    Bethesda, MD: Why do organizations like yours continue to press only for tougher drunk driving laws instead of trying to garner support for all types of dangerous driving behavior such as cell phone usage, inattentiveness, drowsy drivers, and the decrease in the physical skills of elderly drivers? Why are people who can't speak English given licenses when every road sign in the area is labeled in English only? Isn't it hypocritical to focus only on drunk drivers instead of dangerous driving in general.

    John V. Moulden: One of the great lessons we have learned in highway safety with the impact of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is the importance of focusing public attention on one of the major causes of highway deaths -- impaired driving. Not until MADD raised our national consciousness, did we begin to focus on this problem and get laws changed and enforcement increased.
    All the problems you mention are important. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has staff assigned to all these problems. There are also other groups who focus on each. We believe it is important to concentrate on impaired driving because it is such a major threat to our health and safety, and because the tragic consequences ARE ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE.

    Washington, DC: The writer from Arlington stated that the increase in binge drinking among college students is a result of raising the drinking age to 21. Has binge drinking risen since the 21 drinking age was enacted? Have studies been conducted comparing pre- and post-21 drinking age and college student binge drinking?

    John V. Moulden: To my knowledge there is no evidence that the 21 drinking age has caused any increase in binge drinking. Rather the 21 drinking age has saved more than 18,000 young lives since 1975.

    Silver Spring, MD: Specifically what can Montgomery County do to get more drunk drivers off the road? Eliminate probation before judgement, decrease plea-bargaining, impound cars, install interlock systems? What do you recommend? What can be done immediately to save the life of the next potential drunk-driving victim?

    John V. Moulden: Back in the early 1980s I chaired a citizens highway safety committee for County Executive Gilchrist. We did a thorough review of the DWI problem in Montgomery County. While our recommendations back then are still good, I believe it is time to reconstitute a task force to make a systematic review of all aspects of the problem from enforcement to prosecution to education to probation, driver licensing, treatment, public education, etc.

    All the things you mention are important. The bottom line is that we need to DETER drinking and driving. To do that potential drunk drivers need 1. to expect to be caught, 2. to receive tough sanctions, including license suspension and 3. to have those sanctions applied quickly --- not 6-12 months later when their case finally comes to court.

    Gaithersburg, MD: I've heard that some communities post the pictures of repeat offenders in bars, liquor stores, etc., to stop them from buying alcohol. Does this method usually get good results?

    John V. Moulden: I believe that public shame can deter drinking and driving - especially for the social drinkers. It helps reinforce our community's standards against anti-social behavior. Many repeat offenders are alcohol dependent, and, as we see in the Post article, beyond shame. These people need treatment and tougher sanctions to protect the public from their behavior.

    McLean, VA: Hi, I have never (knock wood) been a victim of drunk driving, but knowing how many people are, I came up with an idea to reward Designated Drivers. Would it even be plausible to do things in bars for Designated Drivers such as hold raffles for prizes or give coupons for free items at non-alcohol related establishments that would be willing to volunteer? It seems when "partying" (nice euphemism for either being high or drunk) the Designated Driver is the one just waiting for everyone else to be ready to go home... can't we encourage people to be the Driver in some way so more people will volunteer to be one?

    John V. Moulden: Yes, our local Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), encourages restaurants and bars to reward and encourage designated drivers. (Check our WRAP.ORG Web site)Some Local restaurants, alcohol distributors and others support our WRAP program, more need to do so.

    Silver Spring, MD: Shouldn't the first loophole to close be the one allowing people to decline a Breathalyzer? I think it's law in a couple states that if you say no, that's tantamount to an admission of guilt.

    washingtonpost.com: What are some other steps the government can take in Montgomery to reduce repeat offenders?

    John V. Moulden: Yes, drivers who refuse to submit to an alcohol test should receive tougher sanctions (some states make refusal a criminal offense), and their refusal should be admissible in court. This is a major problem in Maryland.

    Arlington, VA: Dear Mr. Moulden.
    It appears that Montgomery County, and I assume most other places appear to have a system in place that is expensive, but apparently doesn't work very well. What do you suggest that the citizens can do to make the system more responsive and work better?

    John V. Moulden: Increase vigilance by the public and greater accountability to the public by those who are responsible for the system is what is needed. Unless judges, prosecutors, police, elected officials hear from the public that impaired driving needs to be given more attention and resources, I do not expect dramatic changes. SPEAK UP!!

    Silver Spring: As a Montgomery County resident and a parent, the Post's series on drunk drivers incenses me.

    What does one have to do to get an initiative on the ballot to change state laws on the matter?

    I am not one who normally supports mandatory sentencing rules. But for our safety and those of our families, drunk drivers must be removed from the roads. And if that means they must be removed from society, so be it.

    John V. Moulden: Unfortunately, I don not think Maryland is a referendum state. In our state we must do it the old fashioned way... demand our local legislators pay attention to this problem and pass .08 BAC, use the sanctions we have including ignition interlocks, house arrest, vehicle impoundment and many other measures there isn't time to cover. Link up with others in your community, join and support MADD, write letters to our elected officials, judges, etc.

    Wash DC: Are there obligations to inform the authorities if you know that someone might be out on the road after drinking?

    John V. Moulden: Yes, I believe we all have a moral obligation to take action to protect each other and ourselves. Call your local police, report suspected drinking drivers. The police may not be able to intercept them all, but even one stopped may mean a life saved.

    Austin, TX: I've heard that there is a push to drop the legal intoxication limit to .08. Would this have any effect? Isn't the problem the people who are going out and getting blasted not those who are hovering around the .1 BAC level?

    John V. Moulden: Credible studies indicate that a national standard of .08 BAC would save at least 500 lives each year, prevent countless injuries, as well as make individuals more aware of how much/what they're drinking and encourage responsibility. You can check the latest .08 studies out at NHTSA's Web site, which is www.nhtsa.dot.gov

    Rockville, MD: Wow...what a horrible series of articles. Is Montgomery's history punishing drunk driving similar or different from surrounding jurisdictions?

    I can concede the tendency of being lenient on the first arrest - but after that some jail time is warranted. Even if the driver was -literally- my neighbor or relative I'd want him off the street. It's too bad if the driver loses his job over it - maybe he'll think about that next time.

    These judges are exactly why the public cries out for mandatory sentencing laws. It's their responsibility - not the prosecutors - to make sure they have all the relevant information at sentencing.

    John V. Moulden: First, leniency on a first offense is not wise public policy and is a missed opportunity to help problem drinkers deal with their abuse problem. Since we only catch from 1 in 200 to 1 in 2000 drinking drivers, we need to do all we can to DETER those 1999 out of 2000 we do not catch and prevent the ones we do catch from repeating.

    While we should demand better sanctions from our judges, we can also help them with better data systems that can provide them prompt information on driver records and more resources, including hiring more judges and support staff when needed. Drunk driving is a major public health and safety problem that needs major attention and resources to protect the public.

    washingtonpost.com: The NHTSA .08 report is here.

    Alexandria, VA: Why can't companies offer breathalyzers for public purchase? It would make life so much easier for everyone if, at a party or bar, a person can effectively track what his or her BAC level is, rather than playing a guessing game. Can't local jurisdictions and companies come up with some sort of an agreement for the welfare of the community?

    John V. Moulden: There are commercial, self-test devices available as well as police-type portable breath-alcohol testers that anyone can purchase. It is better if a trained operator, including bartenders, provide the test to ensure it is properly administered and not turned in to a drinking game.
    The National Commission will be hosting a technology conference and exposition on November, 29-20 at the JW Marriott Hotel here in Washington. Check our Web site: NCADD.com.

    washington dc: I read that police enforcement is starting to use flashlights that can detect intoxication as the officer shines it in an individual's face. What are your opinions about the new police enforcement tool used to detect intoxication? Isn't this an invasion of privacy?

    John V. Moulden: THese passive alcohol sensors you refer to are an excellent police tool. Studies have shown that they increase the detection of impaired drivers by police compare to those who do are not equipped. These devices do not require that the driver actively cooperate and provide a breath sample as does the evidential test at the police station. They PAS units simple sniff the air in front of the face. Since your expired breath is in the "public domain" (i.e., no longer inside your body) the constitutional protection to illegal search and seizure does not apply. There should be no expectation for "privacy" of expired breath!

    Northern, VA: Mr. Moulden,

    How do the other local area counties stack up against Montgomery County with regards to the arrests/convictions of drunk drivers? Does VA have tougher laws than say Montgomery Co? Are there other counties in MD where the laws are stricter, enforced better, and where the drivers aren't, quite literally, getting away with murder?

    John V. Moulden: Montgomery county police to a good job arresting DWIs compared to other jurisdictions (though they can, and have done better). The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) does a report in conjunction with the Council of Governments (COG) on the DWI problem in the Washington Metro area. Contact WRAP or COG to get a copy.

    Virginia does have the .08 BAC limit that Maryland needs as well as some new tougher sanctions for repeat offenders. Since alcohol-related traffic deaths have increased in Fairfax County, we cannot say that any local jurisdiction is doing a good enough job. That is why we formed WRAP back in 1982.

    Alex.: Are there programs for people that may be on the verge of a drinking problem, that is to say that the individual has noticed certain problem behaviors but doesn't think a program like AA is really appropriate?

    John V. Moulden: Yes there are. Contact your county or city health department for public programs, or your physician or look in the yellow pages for alcohol treatment providers. You do not have to be an end-stage alcoholic to seek help. The earlier you address the problem, the more likely it is that intervention/help will be successful.

    washingtonpost.com: Is there any indication that the various anti-drunk driving groups might start pushing for more public transportation initiatives to keep drivers off the streets, such as working with Metro to get shuttles between Adams-Morgan and Dupont or Woodley Park?

    John V. Moulden: Yes, the newly named Montgomery County Pedestrian "Blue Ribbon" Panel, is looking at ways to keep drinking drivers and pedestrians off the streets. Extending the metro closing times to after midnight has helped and should be continued. We encourage restaurants and taverns to use our "WRAP Sober Ride" free cab ride program, and take the initiative to protect their drinking customers and the public from harm. Call a cab, call a friend, use designated drivers...Everyone should take reponsibility to help solve this problem.

    Arlington, VA: My car was just totaled, thanks to a drunk driver who ran a red light and then refused the field sobriety test, although one of the police officers at the scene said he blew a .25

    How different is Arlington's treatment of drunk drivers from Montgomery's?

    John V. Moulden: The DWI who hit your car was over three times the .08 BAC intoxication threshold in Virginia! Depending on whether this is the driver's first or multiple DWI offense, he may receive a higher fine, license sanction, or jail-time. Arlington also has the VASAP program for convicted DWIs that provides alcohol screening and treatment referral. All in all, both jurisdictions have good law enforcement and substantial sanctions for DWI on the books. The variance between and within jurisdictions comes in how, and which, sanctions are applied and IF the individual DWI is even convicted.

    Janesville, Wisconsin: Is there any way to avoid a reduction of drunk driving charges in a case where the driver gets away from the car and claims he/she drank after driving?

    John V. Moulden: Yes, IF there are credible witnesses to the drivers' behavior (including alcohol consumption)prior to the crash so that the prosecutor can prove that the driver had consumed enough alcohol to be driving impaired before fleeing the scene. It all boils down to making a credible case to the court. Some information can be deduced from the rate of alcohol metabolism, and the alcohol consumption-elimination curve, but there is no forensic test that can prove exactly when the alcohol was consumed.

    washingtonpost.com: That's all the time we have today. Thanks to John Moulden for spending an extra hour with us today.

    © Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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