By James Baxter, NMA President
This editorial by James Baxter is a response to a five part series on drunk driving in Wisconsin that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in October.
The Journel-Sentinel series on “excessive drinking,” primarily related to drunk driving, was motivated by “studies” that identified Wisconsin as the epicenter of drunken behavior and alcohol inspired havoc.
The authors created the illusion of neutrality while pounding home the message that beer, wine, and spirits, and their purveyors, were the leading cause of mayhem on the state’s highways. That the so-called studies have virtually no merit and evolve from the worst of all sources, self-reported behavior, didn’t cause any hesitation in parroting the ludicrous conclusions.
The premise, that Wisconsin has a huge highway safety problem, ranking it the worse in the nation, has one major flaw. It’s not true. Real numbers, real facts, show that Wisconsin has traffic accident fatality rates that are lower than the national average and lower than many states that boast tougher DUI laws.
Wisconsin may not rank high in MADD’s book, but where the rubber hits the road the state has a solid record of highway safety improvement. (In 2006 Wisconsin’s fatality rate was 15 percent below the national average.)
MADD has developed a successful multi-million dollar business model that exploits the human desire for revenge, distorts data for propaganda purposes, and promotes intimidation to coerce uncooperative judges and other public officials.
MADD is supported in this process by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, which favors the use of hyperbole and misleading terminology to justify its actions and programs. (E.G. In 1995 NHTSA told Congress that repealing the national 55 MPH speed limit would cause 6400 additional fatalities. The 55 MPH limit was repealed, but the number of fatalities did not increase and the fatality rate has declined, continually, since that time.)
A good example of the collaboration between MADD and NHTSA is the creation of the deliberately deceptive phrase “alcohol related fatalities.” This includes any fatal accident where one of the people involved had a measurable amount of alcohol in their system. It doesn’t mean that person caused the accident, or that the alcohol was a factor in causing the accident. It just means one of the participants had evidence of alcohol in their system.
This is hardly remarkable when 60 to 70 percent of the adult population (perhaps higher in Wisconsin) consumes beer, wine, and or spirits and that alcohol can remain in their systems for several hours after consuming these beverages.
NHTSA issues a press release that says “Nationally, 13,000 lives were lost in alcohol related crashes.” Soon thereafter MADD picks up the drumbeat and proclaims far and wide that “drunk drivers killed 13,000 people.” MADD then predictably produces a family that has suffered a loss in a DUI incident and implies that they are representative of the typical “drunk driver” victim. The Journal-Sentinel series followed the same playbook.
Beyond the estimate that among all the people involved in fatal accidents, 13,000 had alcohol in their systems, none of this is remotely true.
In the vast majority of cases the only “victim” is the driver himself. A significant percentage of single vehicle, single person fatalities attributed to DUI are in fact suicides, not accidents. In other cases, the at-fault driver was not the person with measurable alcohol present and in yet others, alcohol was not a causative factor.
MADD and the political class persist in stigmatizing the sale and consumption of beer, wine and spirits, in general as well as connected to driving. To the extent that this process is profitable (e.g. donations, sin taxes, fines, fees, surcharges, etc.), it may be rational, albeit unethical.
However, when they move to promoting road blocks for the purpose of intimidation and harassment of the general population, or classifying someone as a felon because they had three drinks and drove a car, or mandating ignition interlock devices, proven to cause more accidents than they prevent, their actions become irrational and corrosive to our welfare and values.
Yes, the social and cultural customs of Wisconsin include the consumption of beer, wine, and spirits and the frequenting of taverns, restaurants, social and sporting events where these beverages are served. As even the Journal-Sentinel article gave passing mention, this is largely done in moderation.
And, as official highway statistics show, Wisconsin’s highways are safer than the national average for all states. This is not to say that more cannot be done to reduce impaired driving, of all kinds. But, revenge inspired penalties, intrusive enforcement, and counter-productive mandates are not the direction we should be taking.