If your car is hit by a sober driver who was pecking at his cell phone rather than watching the road, is the damage done any less severe than it would have been if your car was crashed into by a “drunk” driver?
What if the “drunk” driver doesn’t crash into you – or at all?
Does he deserve punishment because he might have? Why is his punishment for this might have – which is based on almost hysterical assertions about the effect of practically any amount of alcohol on all drivers – more severe, usually, than the punishment meted out (if any) to the distracted/addled/incompetent but sober driver who actually did crash into something?
These are reasonable questions. Unfortunately, the answers usually – officially – given are the apotheosis of unreasonable.
First, there is the matter of the arbitrary definition of “impaired.” It weirdly encompasses the person whose actual driving cannot be faulted – which ought to call into question the assertion of impairment – but who is found to have even trace amounts of alcohol in his system.
At the same time, driving that is prima facie impaired – evidence for which being the crash that just happened – is generally written off as an “accident.” A ticket may be issued. It is rare that the offender is arrested – as is almost always the case when a “drunk” driver is identified.
It is very odd, this arbitrary leniency and understanding on the one hand – and the harsh, intolerant attitude toward the other.
The “drunk” chose to drink and then drive, some will argue – and that makes him guilty of willfully endangering others.
But – leaving aside the problem of his not actually having harmed anyone yet – and the very debatable question as regards the “endangering,” given the legal definition of “drunk” is so attenuated that a person can meet the criteria after having had a sip of beer (e.g., “zero tolerance” for those legally old enough to drive but not legally old enough to drink) – how is this more punishment-worthy than the actions of the person who chooses to not pay attention, as by pecking at his cellphone, and for that reason drives through a red light and does hit someone?
There is actualing.
It would be ridiculous to question the rightness of holding the offender responsible for the damage he caused. But isn’t it something meaner than ridiculous to “hold responsible” a person who isn’t responsible for causing any damage to anyone?
He broke the law, yes. Step on a crack – break your mother’s back. It’s got nothing to do with whether mom’s back was actually broken. Many people have difficulty with this distinction – between right and wrong and legal and illegal. Sometimes, they are the same – but often, they are not. And it is often the case that something which is “illegal” is also right – from a moral point of view.
For example, it is illegal in some areas, to sell your neighbor fresh milk from your cow, because it is not “approved” by a government bureaucrat. But it is perfectly right to engage in such free exchange.
Conversely, that which is legal is often very wrong, from a moral point of view. There are many obvious examples, including that it was once perfectly legal to own other human beings.
Just as obviously, it was right to ignore that law – and very wrong to punish people for violating it.
There is a weird moralistic aspect to the opprobrium – and punishment – heaped upon the driver who drinks, even if he is only “drunk” in the sense of having more than an arbitrary amount of alcohol in his system.
One can pass every roadside sobriety test but if one fails the breath test one is still subject to arrest for “drunk” driving. More telling is the fact that it is utterly beside the point, in terms of the law, whether the person’s driving was competent or not. Indeed, it is irrelevant in court as a defense against the charge of “drunk” driving.
It is like convicting a person of robbery who didn’t steal anything.
One need not even have been drinking – or driving – to be convicted of “drunk” driving. An open container is sufficient. Or that you were drinking – even though you are now sleeping . . . in the back seat. The car parked. No need to establish that you just parked. The engine can be stone cold; you could have a time-stamped security camera video of yourself leaving a bar and walking to your parked car, getting in the back seat and curling up. It cuts no ice with the law, which deems you just as guilty of “drunk” driving, even if you never even sat in the driver’s seat.
Hence moralistic – rather than moral.
A moral standard would not be arbitrary and selectively punitive. It would demand accountability arising from any species of inept/reckless driving that resulted in harm caused to another person or someone else’s property – and never mind why.
Who cares why?
What matters – what ought to matter – is that it did.
Or did not.
Hypotheticals – feelings – ought not to enter into it.
That they define it is a measure of the weirdness – the unfairness – of the thing. It is also why other weird and unfair practices – like “mandating” that the healthy pretend they are sick – have spread like a virulent disease.
This infection goes way back – and the cure will take a general re-awakening to the value of ancient, palliative ideas, now largely forgotten, such as the importance of producing a victim to establish a crime – and that people should only be held accountable for the harms they cause others.
Not because others fear harms that haven’t been caused.
. . .
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