“Oh Crap!” App–basic rights protection or drunk-driving enabler?

A new app available for Android and iPhone smart phones is getting a bit of a rise out of Iowa’s law enforcement. The “Oh Crap!” app is designed to give advice and provide tools to drivers being pulled over by the police.

There’s a new smartphone app for drivers having an ‘oh crap!’ moment behind the wheel. The ‘Oh Crap’ app is designed to help drivers being pulled over for suspected drunk driving.

It was put together by lawyers in Iowa as a way to educate the public of their rights if they are pulled over. It also helps to document the stop for lawyer’s use later.

“We want to educate citizens on what their legal rights are and are not in the state of Iowa and eventually everywhere else. But we also want to serve as a tool to allow people to document their invocation of their rights and their use of legal protections that exist,” said Bob Rehkemper, an attorney and co-creator of the app. 

The app gives tips to drivers being pulled over like: “shut up” and “be polite.” There’s a feature to calculate your blood alcohol content and a button that contacts an on-call lawyer. Plus, there is a whole section on basic legal rights when being pulled over.

I don’t have this app and I have no intention of getting it. However, I do recognize 2 things about it. First, from what I’m reading, the app is providing some good advice to people in their dealings with law enforcement, particularly that bit about being polite. One of the tools it provides is a 15-minute audio recording feature that gets activated at a push of one of the app buttons. According to the app web site, the recording goes for 15 minutes and then stops to upload the audio file to the service’s servers. That file can then be accessed later by either the person who made the recording or by their lawyer, once they grant the access. Once the recording is halted and uploads, the file is now available even if an… overzealous… officer decides to confiscate the phone or intimidate the person into erasing files stored on it. As a techie, I approve of that. Getting a recording or an image off of the recording device and onto safe storage somewhere protects more than it threatens, in my opinion.

The second thing I see is that the purpose and capability of the app is already being distorted by opponents. Again from the story:

Iowa law enforcement is aware of the app and one State Patrol officer is not a fan.

“To give people tips to not be pulled over for drunk driving, we don’t like to hear that. Because if someone is drunk driving we want them off the roadway before we lose an innocent life,” said Sgt. Scott Bright.

The worry is it could make roads less safe for drivers. “People start looking at this app and possibly think if I’m behind the wheel I can just follow some of these steps and maybe I can get away with it. They’re going to take their own risk into their hands,” Bright said.

There is absolutely nothing this app can do to assist someone in “not being pulled over.” The projected blood-alcohol tool can be a guidance to someone about whether they should even get behind the wheel or, proactively used, to know when to say when. The advice offered is a matter of knowing their rights, specifically what the police are legally authorized to command them to do and what they are legal authorized to ask and expect an answer. You’ll note that none of that stops a police officer from pulling them over.

I suspect that what’s really bothering the police in this case is the same thing that bothers them when they encounter someone exercising their right to bear arms who is also equipped with an audio recording device. They don’t like being monitored. So sorry, but… too bad. Dash cams and audio recordings are standard equipment for police these days and to suggest that the public doesn’t have every bit as much reason to make recordings of the interaction with police officers just kind of smacks of elitist leanings. I think this app could be very helpful and, in fact, could be extended to a more generalized app with advice on other matters. To make a module for the app that dealt with firearms law, as I referred to above, or laws on taking pictures or recordings of public events, for example, would be welcomed by those citizens involved in those areas. Perhaps the makers of the app could look into expanding their customer base down the road.