Director of Traffic Safety and Enforcement Programs at the Pacific Institute for Research and EvaluationJames Fell is regarded as a principal cheerleader in the battle to lower legal blood alcohol limits to “.08.” In addition to holding a place on MADD’s board of directors, Fell is a researcher for the neo-prohibitionist Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE).
Before coming to MADD and PIRE, Fell spent over 20 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), where he oversaw the federal agency’s fatality analysis reporting program.
As a NHTSA official, Fell appeared regularly on Capitol Hill, urging U.S. lawmakers to favor an arrangement (tantamount to blackmail) in which states that declined to adopt “.08” laws would lose millions of dollars in federal highway funds. After members of Congress implemented the plan, and state after state debated switching to the more restrictive standard, Fell also testified in support of these measures at the state level. In at least one instance, he cited obviously flawed research in order to sway unsuspecting state legislators. Fell told a 1998 Maryland Senate committee: “We have evidence in California that significant reductions in alcohol-related fatalities occurred in 1990—a 12 percent reduction—the year ‘.08’ and an administrative license-revocation law went into effect.”
At the time, NHTSA (of which Fell was then Chief of Research) knew full well that no such drop in California’s traffic fatality rate had occurred: the 12% “reduction” was a consultant’s prediction of what might happen. In fact, California’s alcohol-related fatality rate during that period of time actually decreased less than the national average —at a time when 45 out of 50 states were still enforcing the old “.10” standard for blood alcohol content. In addition, a 1995 California Department of Motor Vehicles study had found “no statistically significant effects associated with the timing of the .08 law among HBD [“had been drinking”] fatal accidents.” In short, the “.08” law was irrelevant to traffic safety. Fell likely knew this and ignored it when he testified, which might explain his current place in MADD’s inner circle.