The Florida chapter of the neo-prohibitionist group MADD is trying a novel approach to keep everyone but the teetotalers off the street: become Gladys Kravitz. If that doesn’t ring a bell, she was the very nosy neighbor on the 60’s-era television show Bewitched. Not only did she watch through the curtains from across the street, but also on occasion stalked Samantha and Darrin Stevens’ house, peering in the windows, looking for proof that “something was going on.” It seems that watching the neighbors was all she did, having little time left to live her own life outside of her singular pursuit.
In Tampa, MADD volunteers are set to test a pilot program throughout Hillsborough County called the Traffic Observation Program, with Florida’s executive director for MADD, Don Murray, hoping to take the program statewide.
Here’s how the St. Petersburg Times describes how the program would work:
Recruit 20 volunteers armed with donated cell phones and send them out in the middle of the night to watch for telltale signs of drunk drivers.
Murray envisions a program that will pair up community members who are willing to go through a screening process, including a criminal background check and an interview to ensure that those going out on the streets have proper training and experience.
“This isn’t like a vigilante program,” Murray said. “They won’t be attempting to stop or in any way interacting with these vehicles. They’re basically just observers.”
Volunteers will go out in teams. They will drive their own vehicles and take GPS equipment, so they’ll be able to find their way through unfamiliar areas for two to four hours of searching, Murray said. They’ll be told ahead of time of the sometimes-subtle clues for drunk drivers, such as driving under the speed limit or lingering too long at a green light, Murray said.
If participants spot a suspicious driver, they will jot down the license plate, a vehicle description and a location and notify the Sheriff’s Office. It’s up to the deputy to check out the vehicle to determine whether an arrest is appropriate, Murray said.
MADD’s New Watchdog Program
|Maybe it’s just me, but when I have my kids in the car, I do drive slower, usually the speed limit, which in hurried California is almost always slower than the flow of traffic. So that would make me a target of drunken suspicion? Or if I don’t immediately peel out of an intersection during the fraction of a second when the light turns green, I’m a possible drunk driver? Maybe Florida has changed a lot since the last time I was there, but there used to be a disproportionately aged population, who tend to drive somewhat slower as a rule, at least in my experience. Under such conditions, I don’t see how driving slow will be much of a tip to anything, except perhaps to harass the more careful drivers in Tampa. Maybe all the slow drivers will become disillusioned over being wrongly accused all the time and begin driving faster to avoid MADD’s critical gaze. Now wouldn’t that make the roads less safe?|
But most kidding aside, despite Murray’s protests to the contrary, this very much is a vigilante program. Giving anti-alcohol groups the power to lurk around and report anyone they want to local authorities who are already pre-disposed to take their side is a very bad idea in an increasingly police state. To me, this just has “bad idea” written all over it. Who wants to live in a society where you’re always looking over your shoulder and never being sure who you can trust or who might turn you in if you happen to accidentally stumble?
One of the rationalizations for this program that MADD’s John Murray gives is a concern that potential budget cuts would reduce the number of police officers on the road. This, to me, is a great illustration of how out of whack neo-prohibitionist priorities are. He’s not worried that a reduced police force would have a harder time contending with drive-by shootings, road rage, murder, robbery, rape, domestic disputes, or any of the things normal people might worry about. No, to MADD, less police means more alcohol drinkers might slip through the icy fingers of justice. That’s the biggest problem facing our society, that John or Jane Doe have one drink too many and drive home too slowly. These people need some perspective, and they need to get a life. Please, close the damn curtains.