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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Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 Jim

I suspect the reason the senators are so upset is because either they or their drunken buddies in congress have been tagged 1 time to many for driving drunk. The latest statistics I have from 2 years ago show almost 25% of congress has drunk driving violations. If you look at the laws and budgets they pass, you would think they are drinking on the job as well.

Mon, Apr 4, 2011 Mike NY

Yes check points may slow our progress as do many things that are designed to protect. There is a price for safety as their is a price for freedom. These check points are a tool that are designed to deter and reduce threat. For those that whine and complain perhaps you should go through the loss of a wife or child due to a drunk driver, then we can talk about rights and disservice. Oh by the way Chip from Florida if you think the authorities don't have ways around that clause not to patrol around a DUI check point.... better think again, why do you think they have shifts that are irregular and short for some of the officers that man such points. They have to get to and from somehow. More power to enforemnet, less to violators!

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 Marie Arlington VA

These DUI check points also have officers wearing passive breath analyzers. "Have you been drinking tonight" as they lean forward to hear your answer and see if the analyzer picks up your breath. I so appreciate my convertable.

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 Chip Hollywood, Florida

I don't want to know where the checkpoints are so I can Drink and Drive and not get caught.... I want to know where the checkpoints are so I don't have to add 45 minutes to my travel time while I try and explain that I really do have a medical condition that makes my eyes bloodshot and your machine isn't broken because I am blowing a 0.0 and no you cant look in my glove box while we wait on the results and no not in the trunk either. And the lady from MADD, no the police are not allowed to patrol the area around the checkpoint catching those who turn to avoid the checkpoint. That was one of the clauses that made the checkpoint legally and constituionaly valid in the first place.

Sat, Mar 26, 2011

DUI checkpoints are really that bad. They are unconstitutional though sanctioned by law in many areas. What they lack is probable cause, such as dangerous acts as driving with a headlight or taillight out.

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