DUI Checkpoint App: There Really Shouldn't be an App for That

New smartphone apps help users avoid red light camera, speed traps, and DUI checkpoints, but a group of U.S. senators is trying to put a stop to them.

Running late? Need to speed to get where you’re going but don’t have time to get a speeding ticket? There’s an app for that. Or, at least, there was an app for that. New smartphone apps help users avoid red light camera, speed traps, and DUI checkpoints, but a group of U.S. senators is trying to put a stop to them, which raises the question: what shouldn’t there be an app for?

Using GPS technology, several new apps are available to help drivers scope out speed traps and DUI check points; some examples of these apps include “Trapster” which claims that “users submit speed traps, enforcement cameras, and road hazards, that then alert all Trapster users in the area. A high-tech version of flashing your headlights to alert drivers of potential road hazards” and Fuzz alert” for iPhone which claims to” locate Speed traps, speed cameras, DUI/DWI check points, red light cameras, active police vehicles and police enforcement areas. Fuzz Alert compiles a list of speed traps and other traps based off user input to the iphone application or directly from the fuzz alert website.”

Are the apps useful? For sure. After all, there is nothing more annoying than being dinged for a speeding ticket when going 55 in a 50 zone on an empty road. However, are the apps potentially a dangerous tool? According to Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Charles Schumer of New York, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Tom Udall of New Mexico, the answer is yes. They worry that the apps might be used by drunk drivers to evade DUI checkpoints, effectively enabling drunk drivers to not only avoid police, but also put everyone else on the road in danger.

The Senators wrote a letter Tuesday to ask RIM (the makers of BlackBerry), along with Google and Apple to remove the apps from their stores;

“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 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.”

So far, RIM has agreed to pull the smartphone apps from stores, but there is yet to be official word for Apple or Google.

There are two ways to view this story. On the one hand, while the intention of the apps probably wasn’t to enable drunk driving, it certainly does seem to be a risk. This is not to say that people will pre-meditate getting drunk and then driving just because they know they can check the app for road blocks. However, it does seem possible that people could use the app to avoid police while driving under the influence. Simply put, there really shouldn’t be an app for that.

On the other hand, as eWeek points out, the information provided by the apps is actually protected under the First Ammendment, “The process of telling citizens about government activity is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The fact that it’s being performed by an app that passes along reports from citizens to other citizens is entirely beside the point….The bottom line is that this group of four senators is trying to compel limitations on protected speech”. It’s a good point. The article goes on to suggest that the Senators are using the open letter to pressure the companies into change, since the law isn’t actually behind them.

Between this and the recent “anti gay app” controversy, it’s been a week fraught with demands on app distributers, and the questions remain: should companies be responsible for the apps they release and at what point is taking an app of the market a violation of free speech? More specifically, who gets to decide whether or not there should be ” an app for that”?