US plans major clamp-down on drunk driver apps

23 Mar 2011

Smartphone apps that help drunk drivers evade police checkpoints are being targeted by US senators who have called on Google, RIM and Apple to pull the plug on such apps.

In a letter to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, Research in Motion co-CEOs James L Balsillie and Michael Lazaridis and the head of iPhone software at Apple Scott Forstall, US senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Tom Udall called on the tech giants to strip their apps stores of these apps.

In particular, they want the removal of driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) checkpoint functionality on Android, iPhone and BlackBerry devices.

“We know that your companies share our desire to end the scourge of drunk driving and we therefore would ask you to remove these applications from your store unless they are altered to remove the DUI/DWI checkpoint functionality,” the senators wrote.

They pointed to one application that contains a database of DUI checkpoints updated in real time. Another application, with more than 10m users, also allows users to alert each other to DUI checkpoints in real time.

The cost of drink driving

“Police officers from across the country have voiced concern about these products, with one police captain saying, ‘If people are going to use those, what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?’ With a person dying every 50 minutes in a drunk-driving crash, this technology should not be promoted to your customers – in fact, it shouldn’t even be available.

“We appreciate the technology that has allowed millions of Americans to have information at their fingertips, but giving drunk drivers a free tool to evade checkpoints, putting innocent families and children at risk, is a matter of public concern. We hope that you will give our request to make these applications unavailable immediate consideration,” the senators implored Apple, RIM and Google.

Lautenberg has fought to reduce drunk driving and underage drinking throughout his tenure in Congress. He wrote the law that lowered the legal blood alcohol limit to .08 in all 50 states. He also authored the law that established a national legal drinking age of 21, which has helped save thousands of lives across the country.

Last month, Lautenberg and Udall introduced legislation to keep drunk drivers off the road by requiring the use of ignition interlock technology for all convicted drunk driving offenders.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years