Why Excluding Drunk Driver Apps Might be a Bad Idea…

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Senators Chuck Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Tom Udall recently wrote to Apple, Google, and RIMM asking them to exclude apps which allow users to identify, among other things, drunk driving checkpoints.  In the request, the Senators write, “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.” 

While RIMM has already committed to pull the app, these types of apps should make law enforcement more effective, not less.

These apps – and their underlying services – rely on driver-generated information.  These apps place private knowledge into the public domain. By having this information in the public domain, law enforcement should have a better understanding of what the public knows – or thinks they know.  Once a checkpoint is registered in the system, law enforcement can simply target a new location that is not yet been logged in the system. In this way, law enforcement have an information advantage and should be able to more effectively enforce the law.  

Law enforcement  can use public dissemination of private information to more effectively enforce other traffic violations as well.  Take for example speeding. Users log known speed traps which then alert future users to the potential of those speed traps. Those alerts will naturally result in drivers slowing down – at least temporaily.  Enough alerts on a given road would likely keep drivers’ speed down on the entire route.  Law enforcement themselves could even log areas as speed traps where they want to control speeding. Enforcement can be done will less man-power and costs. Inevitably average speeds will drop and the desired results will be achieved. 

Information dissemination and market mechanisms – as they will in this case – forces market participants to compete more aggressively – and ultimately more effectively.  The argument against these class of apps is that they dissolve information asymmetries and those information asymmetries make law enforcement more effective. On the contrary, I argue these apps and their underlying services exacerbate information asymmetries and thereby should improve enforcement effectiveness.