AK Voices: Brian Sweeney Jr.

Brian Sweeney Jr. is an opinionated gastroenterologist in Anchorage.

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Freedom To Travel

The Constitution of the United States grants the right of travel to members of Congress. The language applies to when they are performing their duties.

There is constitutional silence when it comes to the rights of citizens to travel. In 1966 in United States v. Guest the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) opinion stated, "The constitutional right to travel from one State to another, and necessarily to use the highways and other instrumentalities of interstate commerce in doing so, occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union."

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a problem that has been in the news frequently in Alaska. The most recent case involved a drunk driver going the wrong way on Minnesota and causing a collision. Fortunalely, no fatalities occurred with the crash.

People do die in such accidents. In 2009, 31% of all traffic fatalities in Alaska were related to drunk drivers. Overall 12,744 people died from alcohol related accidents in the United States in 2009. Every year there are 3 to 4 times as many people killed by drunk drivers as there were by terrorists on 9/11/2001.

The noise has been deafening in the last year about the Transportation Security Admistration's (TSA) increased security measures at airports. One Alaska legislator decide to take a ship back to Juneau instead of being subject to a pat down. Another is now running commercials in a crusade against body scanners.

It would be nice if TSA would consider the positive predictive value of perfoming searches. As appealing as it may be to keep Sharon Cissna and Chris Tuck from travelling and spreading their ideas they are not threats to national security.

A police officer patrolling the streets looks for erratic behavior when trying to find a driver who is under the influence. It is a much more random process than what is seen in the nation's airports.

Some states use sobriety checkpoints to stop drunk drivers. It involves stopping every car and seeing if the driver is under the influence. Some juristictions will use a device to see if any alcohol is in the air near the driver.

Statistics show that saturation patrols catch more drunk drivers then checkpoints. It is more difficult to assess which method lowers the number of impaired drivers on the road or accident rates. Arguments can be made that checkpoints may be a greater deterrent to people getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

SCOTUS has determined that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional (Michigan Dept of State Police v. Sitz). The opinion specifically states it does not apply to a specific case where the "reasonable" modifier of the Fourth Amendment might be violated.

Justice Rehnquist specifically cited the example of checkpoints used to catch illegal aliens in the decision. I have never been through a sobriety checkpoint but I have been through a Border Patrol checkpoint just south of Temecula, CA. It was a completely benign experience.

Alaska does not grant law enforcement the authority to use checkpoints. It is likely in the land of falsely fierce independence of the North that such a law would have zero chance of passing.

Anchorage is a city with few ways to get places. APD could easily corner the hot spots with checkpoints on an occasional Friday or Saturday night. It is a far different situation for someone who has had a few if they know there might be a checkpoint out on the streets.

Aggressive programs to reduce drunk driving have worked in many states. The Alaska State Troopers (AST) seem to think changing the lyrics to a Christmas Carol and making the issue inappropriately humorous is aggressive.

Alaskans should be free to travel. That travel should be done in a way that does not infringe on the rights of others. SCOTUS has used that standard in many decisions over the years.

It is time to look at what can be done in Alaska with regards to travel on the roads. Drivers should not be impaired. That is not to say checkpoints are the answer but anything that may be helpful should be considered. And as part of the process the issue of cell phones and other distractions should be looked at as well.

It should be the hope of all of us that everybody travel in a responsible manner. We all know that is not the case. And until it becomes the case we all should be willing to cooperate with efforts that keep us all safer.

Of course, if an Alaska politician wants some free travel to do some research all they need to do is support the effort to stop Pebble Mine. Bob Gillam would be more than happy to help.

It would be nice if Alaska could get something more than a law about how to fold the state flag in the next session. Rumor has it there is an informative conference in Norway about flag folding next year. The bad news is there is a body scan before boarding the plane.

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