Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Daniel Roger Smith

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rendered an opinion in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Daniel Roger Smith on September 25, 2013.  The issue presented is whether law enforcement is required to inform a suspect that the results of a consensual blood draw may be used in a criminal prosecution for the consent to be constitutionally voluntary.  Mr. Smith was involved in a fatal vehicular crash.  An off-duty police officer asked Mr. Smith to consent to a blood sample to rule out the possibility that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.  Mr. Smith agreed.  The officer did not inform him that the results of the blood test could be used to prosecute him for vehicular homicide.  The appellate court concluded that it is not constitutionally required for law enforcement to inform a defendant that the results of a blood test may be used for prosecution, as long as a reasonable person would have contemplated the potentiality of the results being used for criminal, investigative, or prosecutorial purposes.

Chicago Responds to Speeding Problem

Yahoo reported on October 12, 2013 that the Chicago Department of Transportation has installed four cameras to detect and capture evidence of speeding drivers.  In a 45 day period, the cameras observed 200,000 violations.  The program is in a trial phase so drivers will just get a warning letter.  However, the program will be operational on October 21st.  After that date, errant drivers will get a warning letter for their first offense, followed by a fine for subsequent offenses.  The program is expected to be expanded to 50 cameras by the end of 2013 and will generate $40-$60 million dollars per year.  The funds collected through the program will be used for safety initiatives, after school programs, job initiatives and other funding projects.  Twenty six states and D.C. have used traffic cameras since they became available in the 1990s.

Red Light Camera Controversy

The Pew Charitable Trust published an article in their publication Stateline on October 15, 2013 titled, “Red-light Cameras Generate Revenue, Controversy.”  The article notes that red light cameras in Florida generated $100 million in traffic fines but there is conflicting research as to whether they reduce the number of crashes.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that intersections with red-light cameras have fewer severe collisions, such as “T-bone collisions” in which a driver or passenger takes the full impact of an oncoming car.  However, studies in Texas and in northern Virginia found that there was an increase of rear end collisions at intersections with red light cameras.  The solution may be to increase the length of time the yellow light is displayed at those intersections.  This is a very well written article and it contains links to the studies they cited.

New York Creates Texting Zones for Drivers

The Los Angeles Times reported on September 23, 2013 that the state of New York has created “texting zones” for drivers on major roadways. The zones use existing rest stops and parking areas, and are announced by a series of 300 signs that say, "It can wait: text stop 5 miles."  The signs are part of an ongoing initative in the state of New York to curb distracted driving.  The state has also increased the penalty for drivers caught using a hand held device to talk or text to $150 and 5 license points.  The program has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who held a press release to describe the program.  "We have three times more distracted driving incidents than we had five years ago," said Cuomo, adding that there are now more traffic fatalities blamed on distracted drivers than on drunk drivers. He attributed the shift to more young people who grow up "attached, affixed to the electronic device."

Five Levels of Interlock Program Monitoring

Dr. Robert Voas, et. al., of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation published a paper titled “Five Levels of Interlock Program Monitoring."  This is a very interesting review of interlock programs in the U.S..  The abstract to the paper states:

Numerous studies have demonstrated that vehicle alcohol ignition interlocks while installed on the cars of impaired-driving offenders reduce recidivism by approximately two-thirds in comparison to similar offenders whose licenses have been suspended. An unresolved issue is the extent to which the effectiveness of interlock programs can be improved by close monitoring of the offenders performance while in the program. This paper describes five types of monitoring currently being used in interlock programs in the United States. The programs reviewed vary from those that simply ensure that the interlock is on the offender’s vehicle and functioning, to those that use the interlock log data to extend the length of time the offender is required to be in the interlock program, and those that use the interlock data to initiate special monitoring and treatment programs that must be completed before removal of the interlock device. The strengths and limitations of each type of program are described. Also reviewed are current technological developments that appear to be leading to the development of fully automated interlock-monitoring systems. Initial evidence shows that more intensive monitoring provides benefits in improved performance on the interlock as indicated by fewer high BAC breath tests when attempting to drive. More intensive supervision, although effective, increases government program costs. The relative cost effectiveness of the differing types of monitoring requires investigation. Treatment programs need to be integrated with the interlock installation period. New technologies can potentially reduce interlock offender monitoring costs and effectiveness. Integrating treatment with interlock could have post interlock benefits.

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