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NMA E-Newsletter #298: Time to Raise Motorists’ Issues with Elected Officials

Posted on September 28th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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For better or worse, election season is upon us. That means it’s the perfect time to find out where your elected officials stand on a variety of motorists’ rights issues.

Your local, state and federal representatives all have an obligation to respond to any reasonable question you pose. Pick the issues important to you and then ask the appropriate elected officials where they stand. From a motorists perspective you might ask these kinds of questions:

Local Officials

  • What is your position on raising the speed limit on XYZ Boulevard to XX mph?
  • Do you support placing red-light or speed-cameras in our community?
  • What is your opinion on police roadblocks?
  • What is your position on local police using automated license plate readers?

State Officials

  • What is your position on raising the maximum state speed limit to XX mph?
  • Would you support legalizing/outlawing red-light or speed cameras?
  • What is your position on turning existing interstate highways into toll roads?
  • Would you support a plan to tax motorists based on the miles they travel?
  • Would you support legislation prohibiting the use of police ticket quotas including for performance evaluations?

National Officials

  • What is your position on turning existing interstate highways into toll roads?
  • Would you vote to increase the gas tax if the money were devoted solely to building and maintaining highways?
  • Would you support a plan to tax motorists based on the miles they travel?
  • Would you support federal privacy protections for data captured by automated license plate readers?

These are just a few examples. Come up with your own questions based on what’s going on in your community and your personal interests.  Approach your representatives in a polite, neutral, non-leading way. You want the closest thing you can get to an honest answer—not the answer they think you want to hear—and you don’t want to come off as confrontational.

Ask the same questions of all candidates for the same office. If you don’t receive a response, the recipient may be trying to leave you in the dark hoping you may still vote for him or her if the other candidates don’t respond in the way you prefer. Think carefully before voting for a candidate who employs this tactic.

The issues that concern us, as motorists, are often considered to be “too minor” to publicly debate or to offer a set of positions. A thoughtful email or even a letter sent through the U.S. Postal Service is a good way to get the answers you seek. A letter may be the most effective since it will stand out among the constant stream of digital data everyone is barraged with these days.

Don’t be surprised if candidates don’t have a strong opinion on the issue you raise. They simply may not have thought about it or may not be well enough informed about it. Take the opportunity to educate them about the issue and the impact it has on you and on other motorists.

If reaching out to your representatives seems like a daunting task, the NMA has published a number of “how to” newsletters over the years linked below. Also review the “Issues” pages at www.motorists.org for the facts and figures you’ll need to make your case.

http://alerts.motorists.org/nma-e-newsletter-201-the-latest-old-fashioned/

http://alerts.motorists.org/nma-e-newsletter-238-an-easy-way-to-speak-up/

http://alerts.motorists.org/nma-e-newsletter-215-connecting-with-lawmaker/

http://alerts.motorists.org/nma-e-newsletter-111-communicating-with-congr/


NMA E-Newsletter #297: V2V—Technology Marches Forward

Posted on September 21st, 2014 in , , , , , , | Comments Off

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a vision for vehicle-to-vehicle communications and the role the technology will play in highway safety. In addition to issuing a lengthy report on the topic last month
(DOT HS 812 014, Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications: Readiness of V2V Technology for Application), the federal agency is currently soliciting public comments about its proposal to create a national standard that would require V2V communications capability on all passenger cars and light trucks in the near future. The goal is to use V2V technology as the basis for a new platform of vehicle-based safety applications such as intersection movement assist and left turn assist that could significantly reduce the number of crashes.

At the heart of V2V technology is a dedicated short-range communications capability, one that would send a basic safety message between vehicles to warn drivers of an impending collision or even take automated action such as applying the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough. The message would include information such as vehicle speed, GPS position, vehicle heading and a verifying message ID. NHTSA estimates that V2V hardware will cost approximately $350 per vehicle in 2020.

We will be reviewing NHTSA’s request for comments about development of a federal motor vehicle safety standard for V2V communications and urge those of you interested in this technology to do the same. The deadline for feedback to NHTSA through the advance notice of proposed rulemaking process is October 20, 2014. 

The agency will also issue a Privacy Impact Assessment in the coming months with more detail on potential privacy risks. That assessment will come with its own request for public comments, an area we surely will be weighing in on as discussions about the implementation of V2V advance. 

Stay tuned to the NMA e-newsletter and blog for more information as it develops. Improvements in vehicular safety designs and applications are welcomed as long as drivers’ rights aren’t encroached upon or put at further risk.


NMA California Alert: Speak out on Anti-Motorist Bills

Posted on September 19th, 2014 in , , , , , | Comments Off

Several bills hostile toward motorists have been passed by the California State Legislature and are awaiting action by the governor.
 
Assembly Bill 1646 would add a violation point for texting or using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving.
 
Senate Bill 1151 would enhance penalties for numerous infractions and misdemeanors committed in school zones.
 
Assembly Bill 2398 would establish penalties for a driver convicted of causing bodily injury or great bodily injury to a “vulnerable road user,” defined as a pedestrian, a person on horseback, a person operating a bicycle, in-line skates, roller skates, a scooter, or a skateboard, and a person operating or using a farm tractor.
 
We encourage you to contact the governor’s office to ask him to veto these measures. To help with that, we have posted several letters online which you can access and send to the governor. Find the letters here. Consider personalizing each letter with your own thoughts and perspectives. 
 
You can also call or email Gov. Brown’s office using the contact information below.
 
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
 
Phone: (916) 445-2841 
Fax: (916) 558-3160
 
Use the form found here for email.


NMA E-Newsletter #296: Politicizing the BAC Debate Thwarts Finding Real Solutions

Posted on September 14th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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By a Massachusetts NMA Member

I’ve been impressed with NMA’s diligence for years now, but I think you might need to take a closer look at slide three of the presentation at http://www.alcoholstats.com/uploads/DrunkDrivingStatistics.pdf before jumping into the politicized waters surrounding DUI and the BAC threshold.

If I’m reading the chart correctly, in 2010 the total number of fatal crashes was 37,023. Of these, 20,838 did not indicate any alcohol consumption by any participant, This means that about 44 percent of the fatal crashes involved alcohol. As I’m sure you realize, 44 percent is the only number that your opponents will use to promote lowering the DUI threshold to .05 percent as a “safety” issue, even when they know perfectly well that the actual resultant change will be essentially nil (i.e., less than 5 percent, which qualifies as statistical noise). At this point the emotionally charged “… if even one child (or life) could be saved …” argument in favor of dramatically tighter BAC restrictions kicks in, precisely as it has with school bus cameras.

It’s interesting that in Russia the BAC threshold for “drunk” driving is .02 percent, which either may be supporting claims that Russia has more drunk drivers than any other nation or an observation that there are simply more people being arrested for drunken driving in Russia than anywhere else—both claims due primarily to a very low BAC threshold. In either case, the Russian government controls both enforcement and the reported stats. The European trend seems to be toward .05 percent, which does not appear to be supported by any stats but clearly has political “curb appeal” for voters who have no real control over their multiple layers of government.

The chart also has a couple of odd-looking features which, if accurate reflections of the truth, deserve closer examination. For example, the fatality rate (1,718) for .01-.07 BAC is about 2.45 times that for BAC .08-.09 (702). Because it is consistent for every year since 1982, we might conclude that a BAC of .08-.09 is more than twice as safe as a BAC of .01-.07, which is contrary to the claim that a higher BAC is always worse. Is it or not?

And the rate for BAC .15-.19 is about 170 percent the rate for BAC .20 and up. My personal guess on this point is that there are very few people who can actually find their car, get behind the wheel, and fit the key into the ignition switch with a BAC over .20. I suspect most people don’t get past finding the car, but if they do, they often pass out at the wheel. In any event, the chart suggests that a BAC of .10 or higher is generally bad news, but lower BAC percentages (.01-.10) are possibly in the realm of statistical “noise” if we consider only the potential for fatalities.

Now, one of the long-standing problems with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics is that they consider only fatalities. This, for example, prompted the Massachusetts government to proudly declare (as front-page news in The Boston Globe several years ago) that Massachusetts is actually, despite insane insurance premiums and vast numbers of crashes, the safest state in the nation for drivers.

This absurd claim was based on the number of NHTSA-reported fatalities on U.S. Highway 3 in Boston (aka the infamous Southeast Expressway) occurring on Sunday mornings and supported by the heartening observation that, unlike in Wyoming, crashes in or near Boston usually get a rapid response, which means that driving in or near Boston (counting only Sunday mornings on one 20-mile stretch of highway)—and therefore Massachusetts as a whole (with the second-highest population density in the nation and roughly 5/6 of the state’s population within 35 miles of Boston)—is “safer” than driving in Wyoming (lowest population density in the nation) even though it is manifestly more dangerous than in the overwhelming majority of states.

Basically, the problem lurking in the NHTSA stats is that the real story about BAC can’t be accurately told because the focus is solely on the worst possible outcome. This invites politicizing a topic that deserves thoughtful examination and pragmatic solutions. I don’t see much evidence of either.

NMA President Gary Biller responds:

Thank you for a very thoughtful analysis of DUI statistics and how they are used to ostracize anyone who dares advocate for reasonable laws and enforcement practices. It is so politically incorrect to challenge the trend toward criminalizing alcohol use again—hey, prohibition worked so well the first time around — that few if any of our state and national legislators have the courage to question the moral and economic consequences of a continued lowering of the legal (but not physiological) limit of impaired driving.

I derive some hope from the reaction to my op-ed for the November 2013 issue of  The Costco Connection. That magazine has a subscriber base of five million so it provided plenty of exposure to the informed debate between me and a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, an organization that prompted the discussion by calling for a lowering of the DUI limit from 0.08 BAC—observed by all states—to 0.05. The following month, The Costco Connection published the results of an associated reader poll that asked, “Should the DUI limit be lowered?” Seventy-two percent said no, while 28 percent wanted tighter regulations. Now if we can get those 72 percent to speak up when it counts!

One other observation about the NHTSA statistics that you dissected very effectively: The fatalities are based on “highest driver BAC in the crash.” That doesn’t mean that the driver with the BAC (or alcohol for that matter) caused the accident. DUI information and statistics are routinely presented in such a way that, as you so aptly stated, it leads to “politicizing a topic that deserves thoughtful examination and pragmatic solutions.”


NMA E-Newsletter #295: Cutting through the Emotional Rhetoric

Posted on September 7th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note: The ticket camera companies are masters at exploiting the public’s emotional responses to traffic accidents and fatalities. Nothing like conjuring up a little fear and outrage to sell a few “safety” cameras, especially when the potential victims are school children. Nowhere is this cynicism more apparent than with school bus “stop arm” cameras that record alleged passing violations at school bus stops.

The camera companies would have us believe that school children are particularly vulnerable to careless motorists who don’t stop for the bus, but the truth is most school-age pedestrian fatalities involving school buses are caused by the bus. We’ve run the numbers here. Executive Director of the NMA Foundation Jim Walker provides his own provocative assessment of the safety value of school bus cameras in this letter to officials in Rockingham County, Virginia.

Dear Rockingham County Officials,

I have several points.

1) Please follow the math carefully to relate the probability that the school bus stop arm cameras could prevent an injury or fatality to a school child in Rockingham County.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports School Transportation-Related Crashes each year, for a 10 year period. The latest report is NHTSA report # 811890 covering 2003 through 2012. It shows that 36 under-age-19 pedestrians were killed by passing cars in that 10 year period.  The numbers in the last 5 annual reports have been 36, 35, 32, 35, and 36 so the numbers are very stable over time. Note that this is less than one fatality per state per 10 years by passing vehicles, an extremely rare event.

Note also in this same 10 year time frame 83 under-age-19 pedestrians were killed by the school bus or a vehicle acting as the school bus, so 70 percent of the young pedestrian fatalities were caused by the bus, not by passing vehicles. The dangers to children are much higher from the buses than from other vehicles.

NHTSA does not produce reports for injuries of under-age-19 pedestrians in School Transportation-Related Crashes, but nationwide there are about 80 injuries for each fatality in all types of transportation crashes. It is likely that the number of such injuries for the decade of 2003-2012 is somewhere around 36 x 80 = 2,880. Dividing 2,880 by 51 for the states plus DC, and by 10 for the time frame, means an average of about 5.6 injuries per year per state for under-age-19 pedestrians in crashes with passing vehicles.

In the latest numbers I could find, Rockingham County had about 11,400 K-12 school children, so let’s look at the proportion for Rockingham County. The United States has about 54,876,000 K-12 school children, so Rockingham represents 11,400 divided by 54,876,000 = .000207741 of the countrywide total.

For fatalities: 36 x .000207741 = .007478676, so if every child in Rockingham County rides a school bus and the cameras prevented 100 percent of the fatalities from passing cars, the county would prevent .007478676 fatalities per decade, or .0007478676 fatalities per year. This means you could expect to prevent one fatality about every 1,337 years with the cameras.

For injuries: 2,880 x .000207741 = .59829408, so if every child in Rockingham County rides a school bus and the cameras prevented 100 percent of the injuries from passing cars, the county would prevent .59829408 injuries per decade or .059829408 injuries per year. This means you could expect to prevent one injury about every 16.7 years with the cameras.

I hope this proportional math makes it clear that any promises made to you or any hopes you have yourselves about actual safety results in Rockingham County in any reasonable time frame from the stop arm cameras are false. The numbers of injuries and fatalities caused by passing vehicles are very small overall, and Rockingham County has a very small proportion of the school age children in the nation.

2) In the above math, there are some assumptions that simply won’t be true.

a) It is likely that not every child rides the bus every school day.

b) The cameras will not stop 100 percent of the possible injuries or fatalities. Some of the crashes involve drivers that are DUI, medically impaired, heavily distracted by something, or even fleeing police. The chance that a ticket would be mailed to them after the fact will not affect those crashes, because those drivers either didn’t see the warning flashers on the bus at all, or deliberately ignored them.

c) Bad weather will sometimes cause some drivers to under-estimate their stopping distance, and they will slide into the danger area even when they see the warning flashers.

Ticket camera companies often promise a lot, but deliver a lot less, or sometimes deliver nothing of actual value for safety.

In short, in my opinion, the emotional appeal of stop arm cameras is very strong but the probabilities of actual safety results in Rockingham County are very near to zero.

Respectfully submitted,

James C. Walker
Life Member, National Motorists Association
Board Member and Executive Director, National Motorists Association Foundation


NMA E-Newsletter #294: Numbers Don’t Lie, People Do

Posted on August 31st, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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We call it Competing Studies Syndrome. One study says red-light cameras significantly reduce accidents. Another says they have no effect, and still another says they actually increase accidents.

Why so much conflicting information? An analysis published last month in The Journal of Evaluation and the Health Professions sheds some light on the issue. Researchers from the University of South Florida reviewed six leading red-light camera studies. They found that studies employing more rigorous methodologies and analysis concluded that accidents increased with the use of red-light cameras, while studies using substandard techniques claimed that red-light cameras led to fewer accidents.

Anti-camera activists have known about the flawed nature of the pro-camera studies for years. In fact, the academic community has roundly criticized the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a leading camera proponent, for its shoddy research methods.

Fraudsters exist all up and down the camera revenue pipeline, and some of them don’t hide their subterfuge behind densely worded research reports and impenetrable statistical analyses. They simply rig the data and hope nobody notices. Here are a couple examples.

Earlier this year the Tampa Police Department (TPD) claimed that red-light cameras had reduced crash rates by 29 percent, but a closer look at the data showed that TPD only counted accidents that occurred within 25 feet of the intersection. According to WTSP, neighboring communities use a much wider radius around intersections for accident reporting. A WTSP news investigation determined that accidents occurring between 25 feet and 50 feet from the intersection (the sweet spot for rear-enders) actually jumped 68 percent after the cameras went up.

WTSP also turned up information showing that accidents were down only 12 percent and 7 percent at 50 feet and 100 feet away from intersection, respectively. However, TPD chose not to share this data and initially denied the ability to track accidents at all based on specific distances from the intersection. Nor is there any mention of comparison data from non-camera intersections, which may have indicated a downward trend in intersections accidents overall.

Another example of camera trickery comes from Murrieta, California, where anti-camera activists had successfully shut down the community’s red-light cameras. Throughout the legal battle that finally ended the program, the cameras continued recording alleged violations but not issuing citations.

To convince public officials to reinstate the program, camera operator ATS issued a press release claiming the cameras had recorded nearly twice the number of “red light running events” after the violations were halted. Without the threat of a violation, the company asserted, drivers returned to their pre-camera scofflaw behavior. “This data shows (sic) just how much of a red-light running deterrent they were for drivers in Murrieta,” said ATS spokesman Charles Territo.

Not so fast, Charlie. It turns out the violation numbers ATS used for the post-camera period were for “violations recorded,” which are the raw number of potential violations captured by the camera sensors. None of these had been reviewed by ATS personnel or police to see if they warranted an actual citation. The comparison data ATS used while the cameras were actually operational included only violations that had been reviewed and for which citations had been issued. As a result, the post-camera “violation” rates were artificially inflated in a cynical attempt to show a safety benefit that didn’t exist.

That the pro-camera side must resort to such tactics is indicative of the moral climate of the entire industry. If red-light cameras truly made roads safer, their supporters would not have to resort to obfuscation and numerical sleight-of-hand to justify their existence. If red-light cameras truly benefited entire communities as their supporters claim, the camera companies would not have to resort to bribery to secure contracts.

As staunch red-light camera foe, New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, recently put it:

If cameras actually increased safety no one would have to bribe anyone for business—we’d all be lining up! How any public entity can continue to do business with Redflex in particular, but really any of these companies pitching these ineffective, thieving cameras is beyond me. Is the lure of fast cash so strong we have decided that morality doesn’t matter?


NMA E-Newsletter #293: An Overview of Open Container Laws

Posted on August 24th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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With Labor Day just around the corner, many of us will hit the road for one last road trip before summer turns to fall. One often overlooked and misunderstood hazard of this endeavor concerns so-called open container laws. This becomes even more of an issue when it comes to motor homes.

The issue of open containers is not regulated or legislated at the federal level. States pass their own laws. However, the feds do exert some influence over open container control through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). TEA-21 establishes guidelines for open containers in vehicles, which the states must follow or risk losing highway funding.

Forty states are in full TEA-21 compliance. This means they prohibit:

  • Any open alcohol container or the consumption of alcohol in vehicles
  • Open alcohol in vehicles in the passenger area including unlocked glove compartments where the driver can easily reach the container
  • All open alcohol containers with at least one-half of one percent of alcohol
  • Open alcohol containers in any vehicle on the public highways including shoulders.

Arkansas and West Virginia are in partial compliance with TEA-21, while Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia allow passengers to drink alcohol. Mississippi is the only state that allows drivers to consume alcohol while driving, as long as they stay under the legal limit for DUI. (Look here for a complete list of state open container laws.)

Keep in mind that laws do change from time to time. Also note that some municipalities have passed local open container ordinances that may be stricter than state law.

Regarding open containers in motor homes, NMA Texas member and frequent e-newsletter contributor Ted Levitt provides the following information, based on his research into the legality of vehicle searches:

There is no separation from the driver’s seating area and the passenger seating area of a motor home, so anyone sitting in the motor home and drinking alcohol while the vehicle is moving may be charged with a violation, depending on your state’s open container law (see above). Driving your friends to the lake in your motor home while they enjoy a sandwich and a beer in back may end up with everyone getting a ticket or arrested.

The legality of searches conducted on any vehicle with questionable “probable cause” will be decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis. With all vehicle searches, based solely on a non-jailable traffic offense, (such as a speeding ticket) the police officer must first be able to justify the search by either an arrest incident to a traffic offense with a justifiable probable cause under either the “In Plain View” doctrine or under some exigent circumstances.

It would be wise to check with your local state police to find out how your state’s open container laws deal with motor homes before you allow a passenger to drink while you are driving your motor home.

The NMA does not condone drunk driving. Even if your state does allow open containers in moving vehicles, it may be wise to abstain. If you do get pulled over, you have no guarantee the officer knows, or cares, what the law says. Let prudence be your guide to a safe and fun Labor Day weekend.


NMA Maryland/Virginia Alert: Defend Yourself against MD Speed Cam Tickets

Posted on August 20th, 2014 in , , , , , | Comments Off

If you receive a Maryland speed camera ticket and were not driving at the time, you are under no obligation to name the person who was driving, according to a recent investigative news report.
 
The story stems from language on the tickets telling drivers they may “choose to identify the person” who has behind the wheel. Some motorists have construed this to mean that they must say who the driver was, and the Maryland court system has done nothing to dispel this notion.
 
In reality, the Maryland speed camera statute says nothing about identifying the driver of the vehicle. Instead, it specifically cites as a defense “evidence that the person named in the citation was not operating the vehicle at the time of the violation.” Several Maryland motorists have recently used this defense to win a dismissal of their speed camera citations.
 
If you get a Maryland speed camera ticket and were not the driver and can prove it, you may be able to win your case based on the language in the statute. Check out this page from the Maryland Drivers Alliance for more details on how to do this. 


NMA California Alert: Motorist Bills Need Action

Posted on August 18th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

Drivers’ rights activists in California are coming together to take action on these important motorist-related bills:
 
Senate Bill 1079 would protect against potentially higher fuel costs by exempting suppliers of transportation fuel from having to purchase carbon allowances until 2021. The bill is under consideration in the Senate Rules Committee. Please contact committee members to ask them to support this bill.
 
Assembly Bill 2393 would increase vehicle registration fees to fund the implementation of an automated fingerprint identification system. The bill has been passed by the Assembly and Senate and is awaiting approval by the governor. Please contact Governor Brown’s office to ask him to return this bill unsigned on the basis that fees paid by motorists should be solely used for roadway funding.
 
Senate Bill 1077 would require various transportation agencies in the state to implement a pilot program designed to “explore various methods for using a mileage-based fee (MBF) to replace the state’s existing fuel excise tax.” The bill has passed the Senate and will be heard in the Assembly. The NMA opposes such fees because they are expensive to administer, lead to pervasive tracking of motorists, and are not as efficient or equitable as the current fuel tax system. (Learn more here.) Please contact your Assembly member to ask him or her to vote against SB 1077.
 
Senate Bill 1183 would allow local jurisdictions to impose a $5 vehicle surcharge to fund the expansion of, and improvements to, bicycle trails and bicycle parking facilities. The bill has already passed the Senate and will be heard in the Assembly. Please contact your Assembly member to ask him or her to vote against SB 1183 on the basis that fees paid by motorists should be solely used for roadway funding.


NMA E-Newsletter #292: Passing the Sniff Test

Posted on August 17th, 2014 in , , , , | Comments Off

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The civil forfeiture racket is never far from the headlines these days, and thanks to the ubiquitous use of drug sniffing dogs, it’s easier than ever for police to shakedown motorists and get away with it.

Here’s how the scam works: A police officer pulls over a driver for a routine traffic stop, becomes “suspicious” of possible illegal activity (usually drug-related) and asks if he can search the vehicle. If the motorist refuses, the officer calls for a trained drug dog to sniff around the exterior of the vehicle.

Invariably, the dog alerts to something, and a search ensues. Sometimes the search reveals cash or other valuables, which are assumed to be connected to illegal activity and confiscated. Drivers then have a hard time getting their property back and often must mount expensive legal challenges to do so. (See the winter 2014 Driving Freedoms cover story for more on the hazards of civil forfeiture.)

The dog provides the key to unlocking this treasure trove. Courts have made clear that the use of a drug dog does not require probable cause or reasonable suspicion and that the dog’s detection of the scent of contraband can produce the probable cause needed to search the vehicle.

But how reliable are these beasts? As it turn out, not very, even though a dog’s sniffer can be up to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s. Dogs can distinguish smells from one another even when they’re mixed together. So, when a person walks into a kitchen and smells pizza, all he smells is pizza. But when a dog smells pizza, it’s smelling sausage, cheese, onions, oregano, tomato sauce and crust. This is why a trained dog can smell trace amounts of an illicit substance even if the odor is being masked by coffee grounds, perfume or dryer sheets.

Law enforcement officials would have us believe that drug dogs are infallible when it comes to detecting drugs. But nothing could be further from the truth, according to a study from the University of California at Davis released last year. Researchers recruited 18 dogs and their handlers and gave them a simple task: go through a room and find the hidden drugs and explosives.

But there was a catch. The room contained not drugs or explosives. To pass the test, the teams had to search the room and detect nothing. Out of 144 trials, that only happened 21 times, for a failure rate of 85 percent. Why so many false positives? The study concluded that “handler beliefs affect scent detection dog outcomes,” and that the dogs have been trained to alert in response to subtle cues from their handlers. This means the handler can get the dog to alert even if no drugs are present. View this now-famous video to see how the whole thing works.

Thankfully, some in the law enforcement community have begun to challenge the reliability of drug-sniffing dogs. In 2012 two Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) K-9 officers filed a lawsuit claiming that the drug dogs used by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the NHP had been trained to respond to their handlers’ cues which led to illegal searches and the seizure of millions of dollars from motorists. The outcome of the case is still pending.

What can you do if you’ve been pulled over for a legitimate traffic stop and the cop wants to release the hounds on you? First, state clearly that you do not consent to any searches. If you are asked to exit your vehicle, do so but lock the doors and don’t give your keys to the officer. State your objection to the use of the dog.

Most of the time, the dog will have to be brought to the scene. While you wait, ask if you are being detained and if you are free to leave. Keep asking. The police cannot detain you indefinitely. If the delay extends beyond the time it takes to run your plates and write up the citation, the use of the dog becomes constitutionally suspect. The key is to assert your rights throughout the stop. It may not prevent a search of your vehicle, but it may protect you down the road and lead to a better outcome in the courtroom.





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