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Some decision analysis problems are pretty easy, no?

Cassie Murdoch reports:

A 47-year-old woman in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, got behind the wheel of her car after having a bit too much to drink, but instead of wreaking havoc on the road, she ended up lodged in a sand trap at a local golf course. Why? Because her GPS made her do it—obviously! She said the GPS told her to turn left, and she did, right into a cornfield. That didn’t faze her, and she just kept on going until she ended up on the golf course and got stuck in the sand. There were people on the course at the time, but thankfully nobody was injured. Police found a cup full of alcohol in her car and arrested her for driving drunk.

Here’s the punchline:

This is the fourth time she’s been arrested for a DUI.

Assuming this story is accurate, I guess they don’t have one of those “three strikes” laws in Massachusetts? Personally, I’m a lot more afraid of a dangerous driver than of some drug dealer. I’d think a simple cost-benefit calculation would recommend taking away her car after violation #1 or 2, no?

P.S. Yes, I realize this story falls in the generic “incompetent criminal” and “outrage of the week” files. But I think it fits into this blog because of the decision-theory connection. Also political science. If something as obvious as taking away the car keys from repeat drunk drivers isn’t being done, it might be worth understanding what aspect of the political system is letting this happen.

11 Comments

  1. JOS says:

    So then she loses her job and can’t find another one because she can’t drive to work? In most of America a car is required to live and work. (I wonder how much of millenials preference for cities/walkable areas is because of increased criminalization.) Is forcing someone onto state support better/worse than putting them in prison? Should we also take away people’s keys when they do other dangerous activities such as talk on a phone or text or be too tired or be distracted by a todler? Why do we let parents endanger their children by taking them onto the road at all? Won’t someone think of the children?!

    My isual response when a problem seems “easy” isn’t to think it’s easy but to wonder if their are things I haven’t considered.

    • Andrew says:

      JOS,

      Drunk drivers can (and do) kill. If necessary they can move to be near their job or near a bus line. Millions of Americans don’t have cars and can live just fine. I think of dangerous driving as antisocial behavior and it makes sense to me to remove these people’s weapons before they hurt someone. I understand having sympathy for someone who is addicted to alcohol, I can see how it can be hard to stop. But driving while drunk—that’s a choice, dangerous to others as well as self.

  2. idiot says:

    A Google search reveals that the 4th convicted offense in MA could lead to a driver license suspension for 10 years, and a 5th convicted offense could lead to a lifetime suspension. In fact, the very FIRST offense could lead to a driver license to be suspended for 1 year. There are however two loopholes to keep in mind:
    1) A Hardship exemption can be considered after a certain period of time. So a drunk driver can return on the road early.
    2) A person can plea “Continuance without a Finding” instead of “Guilty”. He’ll still receive some punishments (including a license suspension for 45-90 days), but it would NOT count as an ‘conviction’, meaning it won’t count as an offense that could lead to a license suspension. You also are eligible to a hardship exemption right away. It appears that this loophole may have tightened, in that you cannot plea CWOF unless you take a breath anaylzer test. (http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mass-Gov-closes-drunk-driving-loophole-3693591.php).

    Sources:
    [1]http://www.dmv.org/ma-massachusetts/automotive-law/dui.php
    [2]http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mass-Gov-closes-drunk-driving-loophole-3693591.php

  3. Kevin Miller says:

    The article does say her license was suspended, which counts as “taking away her car” if she were willing to abide by the law. But then she wouldn’t be drinking and driving. Given that she isn’t willing to abide by the law, it isn’t so clear what the state could do.

    • Andrew says:

      Kevin:

      When I say “taking away her car,” I mean taking away her car. Tow truck etc.

      • Nameless says:

        Taking away her car would achieve nothing. You can’t guarantee that she won’t go out the next morning and buy a new car. You can’t guarantee that she won’t drink and drive her husband’s car. As long as you can’t make sure that she won’t be able to get a different car, taking away her car is essentially a fine and it doesn’t even have a fixed value (taking away a paid-off Porsche is going to hurt much more than taking away a leased Honda Civic).

        • Eric Walten says:

          And her license shouldn’t be taken away, because you can’t guarantee she won’t drive without a license?

        • Andrew says:

          Nameless:

          As a statistician, I’m happy to reduce the probability without feeling the need to bring it all the way down to 0%. The latter could be done via prison or house arrest but that seems too severe, given that taking the car away would reduce most of her capability for doing damage. And, yes, she could drive someone else’s car but they would have a motivation to not lend it to her, knowing that it too would be taken away from her on her next police stop of any kind. It goes like this: “Sorry, I’d like to lend you the car but I can’t risk having it impounded. Maybe you could take the bus or get a ride from someone.”

          • Nameless says:

            After some googling, it turns out that many states, including Massachusetts, do have laws allowing them to take away cars of repeat DUI offenders. (The legal term is “forfeiture”.) Specific conditions vary from state to state. In MA, it seems that the forfeiture law does not kick in until the 4th conviction. Some states also allow vehicle forfeitures for driving with a suspended license. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon and there are unresolved questions about its constitutionality. Look at this article:

            http://www.sj-r.com/top-stories/x1437800354/Vehicle-forfeitures-a-growing-trend?zc_p=0

        • jrkrideau says:

          Take car, put in crusher. Any time found driving another automobile charge with car theft. Anyone who loans car –i.e. car is not literally stolen– has car sent to crusher.

          May not be a real deterent but it might help.