Are DUI checkpoint apps really that bad?

Senators get RIM to pull apps from its store, but police downplay their impact

Pressure from four senators has prompted Research in Motion to pull two applications that warn drivers when they’re near DUI checkpoints from its App World store. A similar appeal to Apple and Google has gone unheeded.

The senators — Democrats Harry Reid of Nevada, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Charles Schumer of New York and Tom Udall of New Mexico — wrote an open letter to RIM, Apple and Google expressing outrage over the existence of apps that could allow drunken drivers to avoid the checkpoints.

“Giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern,” the senators wrote in urging the smart-phone companies not to sell the applications. “What other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?”

The applications in question, Trapster and PhantomAlert, also list speed traps, enforcement cameras and other road hazards, according to a report in the Register.

Google, meanwhile, has said it will keep the apps on its Android Marketplace, noting that it only pulls applications that violate Android's content policies, according to the International Business Times. Apple hasn’t responded to the senators’ letter, and the applications are available on its App Store.

Meanwhile, some police organizations and a national advocate against drunken driving downplayed the risk of the apps. Indiana State Police Sgt. Dave Bursten told the Fox59 news station in Indianapolis that police don’t man checkpoints around the clock, but he added that listing their locations could discourage people from drinking and driving.

“The whole idea is to get voluntary compliance,” he said.

The publishers of both applications say they are intended to deter drunken driving.

Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told Fox59 that police roam around near the checkpoints, making it likely they would spot a drunken driver attempting to avoid a checkpoint.

Furthermore, even if major distributors such as Apple, Google and RIM drop the apps from their sites, that doesn’t mean they’re unavailable. Since the senators’ letter and the attendant publicity, the publisher of PhantomAlert told that downloads have skyrocketed.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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