In a letter to Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president of iPhone Software, Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Tom Udall (D-NM) today wrote:
We write today with grave concern regarding the ease with which downloadable applications for the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products allow customers to identify where local police officers have set up DUI checkpoints. With more than 10,000 Americans dying in drunk-driving crashes every year, providing access to iPhone and iPad applications that alert users to DUI checkpoints is harmful to public safety.
What the politicians deliberately omit from their complaint is that these apps are actually a way to network with other road users to avoid a number of police checkpoints, including red light checks, and speed checks – not just “DUI” (Driving Under the Influence) checks. And that the idea behind these kind of checkpoints is actually for them to aim as a deterrent to all kinds of bad motoring behaviour, including speeding, drunk driving and ignoring traffic lights. The only way they can do that is if people are aware of the risks they face themselves, and they pose to others with this kind of antisocial behaviour. And apps which publicise these checkpoints solve another purpose as they raise public awareness and make people think about the penalties they face, and the actions they are considering taking.
In the UK, for example, the location of this kind of checkpoint needs to be clearly visible by law to the driver well prior to them passing the checkpoint. And as such they are not designed to be a trap, or a way to generate revenue for the government or the police force. What they are actually meant to do is act as a deterrent against crime – not as a way to catch criminals.
The police really do want people to know about these checks, slow down, obey traffic signs, or not drink alcohol and drive. Or heaven forbid, if they are drunk driving, to simply stop, get out of the car, and get a cab. This is why these kind of police stops are advertised on TV at seasonal times like New Year and Christmas. They are not meant to be a secret! They are meant to prevent deaths primarily, not catch and punish people. If you catch and punish people it is generally already too late because it is most often after someone has been killed or injured in an accident.
Unfortunately what is happening is that the short-sighted senators who have written to Apple are applying their interpretation of these kinds of checkpoints as a way to catch and punish offenders, and missing the point that they are a way to help prevent crime from happening.
It is debatable if we think this kind of app allows certain kinds of people to be able to deliberately avoid ways of being caught for speeding, drink driving, or traffic light jumping.
But what most politicians of this ilk are missing is that habitual offenders will always find a way to offend, and most likely kill someone, eventually after perhaps getting away with this kind of behaviour over time, and avoiding police checks by simply being sneaky – or being lucky. Police checkpoints, warnings on TV, or iPhone apps won’t stop them offending – ever – as the kind of people who kill by drink driving are going to do it, police checks or not.
Your average driver, however, who might occasionally consider having one too many drinks and then driving home, may well decide, once made aware of these kinds of police checks by their own iPhone, or a friend’s iPhone, to think twice before breaking the law in this way.
Do you think this kind of app should be banned? Or should they be encouraged in the spirit of making people aware of the risks they face when breaking the law? Have your say in the comments…