Is it tougher laws – or raised consciousness?

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Getting liquored-up and getting behind the wheel hasn’t been cool for 25 years  now, at least – and the general public opprobrium has apparently had  positive effects. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of “alcohol-related” traffic deaths has dropped to about  0.63 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled vs. 1.64 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the early 1980s. 

The question is, are tighter penalties for drunk driving – and more aggressive enforcement – the reason for the downtick? Or is it more a consequence of mass enlightenment that drinking to excess and driving isn’t a good idea? Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says it’s the stricter laws but it’s probably a mix of both.

At some point a general epiphany seemed to occur to most people that made them think twice about getting behind the wheel after more than a couple drinks. The flip side, of course, is the fear instilled by the prospect of rolling up on a sobriety checkpoint, flunking the Breathalyzer test – and getting a night’s pass to accommodations in the county clink.

It’s interesting how we’ve swung from one extreme to the other in the space of just a few decades. Before the early 1980s, having “one for the road” was a common closing time/end of the night thing to do. Remember movies like “Cannonball Run” with Dean Martin driving a Ferrari 308 with one hand on the wheel and the other clutching a Chivas over ice? That was considered  funny in those days. It still is – in the movie – but it’s also as politically incorrect as a George Lincoln Rockwell speech.

Maybe more.  

Imagine the reaction today. The “moms” would have a collective seizure; there would be a caravan of Caravans (and an odyssey of Odysseys) to the Capitol denouncing such recklessness and fecklessness… 

Which brings us to the issue of political correctness as applied to the drunk-driving issue. It’s one thing to object to the idiots who put their own and others’ lives at risk by operating a motor vehicle when they’re swimming in Jack Daniels. No doubt, those people should feel the weight of the state descend upon them. But we’re now at the point of “defining drunkenness down” by lowering legal standards for impairment to the point of absurdity – and becoming depressingly habituated to East German Stasi-like “sobriety checkpoints” that subject people who have done nothing to even warrant suspicion to an intimidating once-over by armed agents of the state.

MADD, for example, has gone on the record arguing in favor of establishing what amounts to an almost zero-tolerance policy for any trace of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream — demanding that the laws be changed to define a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of as little as .04 sufficient to incur a charge of driving under the influence.

That’s a bit much – right

Most states have already set the maximum allowable BAC level at .08 – even though it is a fact that actual accidents (as opposed to the relentless theoretical “what if?” scenarios postulated by MADD) tend to happen only when a person’s BAC level is .10 or higher. This is why the laws defining “drunk” driving used to have .10 BAC as the legal threshold. Meanwhile, there is no evidence that minimal BAC levels of .06 or less -which can be reached after an average-sized person has had a single drink with his dinner – correlate with a greater likelihood of having an accident as a result of diminished capacity.

It’s one thing to lock up the person who is weaving all over the road – quite another to arrest a person at a sobriety checkpoint simply because he has trace amounts of alcohol in his blood.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving – a fervent backer of sobriety checkpoints –  deploys some of the shrillest rhetoric this side of a termagant convention to shout down any who don’t share the group’s almost Carrie Nation-like neo-Prohibitionist zeal. “Opponents of sobriety checkpoints tend to be those who drink and drive frequently and who are concerned about being caught,” according to MADD — although no evidence is given to support this wild accusation. 

Can’t a person legitimately object to the use of random stops by police absent probable cause without also endorsing or excusing “drunk driving” –  just as one doesn’t have to be a “tax cheat” to object to random IRS audits – or “support the terrorists” because one believes that police should be required to secure a warrant before conducting a wiretap or search of anyone’s home?

Getting “drunks off the road” is one thing. Rescinding the Bill of Rights is something else.  

Is it in keeping with a free society to treat everyone as a presumptive criminal until proved otherwise? Maybe we ought to begin asking ourselves whether the “ends justify the means” philosophy that is the reverse of the principles enshrined in our founding documents and which has become the de facto basis of law-writing (make that edict-issuing) in this country is the right philosophy to follow… .   

There is arguably no principle more fundamental to the life of a free society than that a person should not have to deal with the agents of the state until he, as a specific individual, has given some objectively quantifiable reason for suspecting he has committed a crime or may be about to commit a crime.  

It’s undeniable that MADD and other such groups deserve some credit for  making it socially unacceptable to drive while drunk. But knowing when to say “when” applies just as equally to social and legal policy, too. Just because we went on a bender in the past doesn’t mean neo-Prohibitionism is the answer today.

Reasonable people favor reasonable laws.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. ..the number of “alcohol-related” traffic deaths has dropped to about 0.63 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled vs. 1.64 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the early 1980s.

    WHOA.. BULLSHIT! Er.. I’m not calling you out Eric, only clovers dare try. We all see eye to eye on this already I’m sure.

    Using “road toll” statistics to create a least squares linear regression trend, or any kind of trend while ignoring other pertinent factors cannot possibly work, which is why they don’t tell you what the other factors are. Then again, WTF does “alcohol-related” even mean? Were they sober and going to GET some beer and parked wheels up?

    Notably, car safety ALONE has improved vastly since the ’80’s, reducing toll figures across the board without proving that any intervention on BAC levels had any effect whatsoever. Just shot a big hole in that one.

    We need to back up just one step. What caused the crash in the first place? Adelaide University some years ago studied exactly that. Among 20-something factors they identified, “speeding” was 16 from the top and number 1: “failure to give way”.

    A study in Great Britain from 2005 can be found here:

    http://www.aussiespeedingfines.com/downloads/Crash_Statistics.xls

    Use Open Office if you don’t have Excel – Free!: http://www.openoffice.org

    You’ll see that accidents are broken down into many categories, including separating fatal from non-fatal. Fatal Crashes involving impairment by alcohol 9%. Total crashes from alcohol impairment 5%.

    It gets better. Impairment by alcohol can be a FACTOR, not essentially the CAUSE. Meaning, that swerving for an errant pedestrian, animal or an unrestrained child can cause a misleading BELIEF by the investigating officer that the DEAD guy that can’t speak for himself crashed simply due to alcohol impairment when the blood results come in and, the BAC can even be below 0.05.

    So now what’s the ACTUAL figure when it comes to crashes caused by alcohol impairment alone? Very likely far less than 1%. There’s usually ALWAYS at least one other contributing factor, if not more.

    Same goes for “speeding” or “failure to give way”. When “toll” figures alone are used there’s really nothing that can be correlated with anything over time, since vehicles are now inherently far safer than they were at any time in their precious “study” period.

    Even now though, technology’s changing. Vehicle stability control and ABS mean that even crashes WILL occur less frequently, irrespective of speed limits, BAC testing et al. What stats are they going to use now that they’ve been proven frauds using rubbery figures, I wonder.

    I don’t have the time ATM, but maybe we should crunch the numbers further and publish the results somewhere very public, since the MSM only toe the gubberment line. The country, if not the world needs to know how and how much they’ve been lied to and apply prison sentences to the guilty accordingly.

    • “Alcohol related means just what I say it means”, said Humpty Dumpty.

      Lately, Humpty says it means any driver or passenger in any of the vehicles has had any amount of alcohol whatsoever.

  2. @jesse

    “so why in the hell should I have to blow through a straw to drive my car?”

    Because the mothers tell you so and Schumer is one of the biggest looking to F the people. That’s why they call themselves mothers. Their use of this word never has anything to do with children despite the bosomy, suckle-up inference. The Bolsheviks have used the children and anything to do with children as a means for their propaganda since time immemorial. Hitler was an admirer of Marx and merely copied the Bolsheviks tailoring Bolshevism for the German people just as Bolshevism is being tailored for America. The MSM and the far left have been slinging the word fascism and Nazi around for decades. The people now have long parroted them using fascism to describe the authoritarian move in government that they see. They do not understand the two faces of communism because the other face is never spoken of. Yet it requires two legs, a left and a right, to move forward on. What some term as Sof Fascism undoubtedly is their current facade, their Potemkin Village so to speak, but the iron fist in your Fatherland’s glove will be Bolshevism.

    It didn’t end with the demise of Germany. It didn’t end with the demise of the Cold War. Only the means to their end has changed, tailor made for every race, every culture, every nation.

    To coin an old Leonard Cohen song, “get ready for the future, it is murder.”

  3. Perhaps you have heard about Senate Bill S510 in the 2011 session, sponsored by such luminaries as Udall, Shumer etc, that want alcohol detection devices mandatory in ALL cars?? I don’t drink, so why in the hell should I have to blow through a straw to drive my car?? I thought the Government was established to “secure the blessings of Liberty”. Evidently not.I think there should be mandatory daily drug and alcohol testing for ALL elected officials, and staff, with un redacted results released daily to the citizenry.

    • Yes, unfortunately. I need to check in to see whether this is still on the table. I agree it’s outrageous, but it’s also predictable. The opening wedge was mandatory seat belts; mandatory air bags were next. Once the principle (we – the government – have the moral right to force you to buy this equipment because it’s for your own good, etc.) is accepted, the rest naturally follows. Look for more to come…

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