No subject seems to inflame and polarize people interested in traffic laws more than Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Emotions run rampant and misinformation is the rule.
For many years “blood alcohol content” has been used to establish a simple standard of impairment. At face value, it’s a straight forward uncomplicated standard that everyone should understand. For the police, the courts, the government and the insurance industry, it’s a wonderful system. It’s seemingly precise, black and white, and easily administered. As long as the legal BAC was reasonably high, for example, .12 or .15, it was a fair indicator of unreasonable impairment. Unfortunately, today its use is arbitrary, unfair and a tool of abuse.
Public and private interests have campaigned to lower the legal BAC. The lower legal BAC standard has made it easier to arrest and convict drivers of DWI, even if they do not exhibit noticeable levels of impairment. However, the typical BAC level of drivers arrested for DWI remains between .15 and .2 percent.
Anti-drunk driving campaigns evolved to anti-drinking and driving campaigns (and show tinges of just becoming an anti-drinking campaign). Raising the drinking age, eliminating advertising options, increasing fines, invoking jail time, administrative license suspension, road blocks, asset forfeiture, and expanded liability for retailers and hosts, and further lowering the legal BAC are but a sampling of the laws and regulations that have been passed to eliminate drinking and driving, in all its manifestations.
Part and parcel of this program was the exaggeration of the actual problem by a factor of five. Claiming that 50 percent of all highway fatalities are “alcohol related” is just as valid as saying 30 percent of all highway fatalities are “speed related” or that “road rage” accounts for 70 percent of all accidents. These are all nonsense numbers made up largely by the same agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Remember, this is the same agency that claimed the repeal of “55” would result in 6,000 additional fatalities. (Fatalities actually declined.)
Because the anti-drinking and driving movement is not yet emboldened enough to promote roadside executions, at the discretion of the arresting officer, they have had to focus on a diminishing menu of proposals, most notably lowering the legal BAC to .08 percent. While no one has quite mentioned this, a nationwide .08 percent BAC puts about 140 million Americans in the “drunk driver” category, just like the 55 mph speed limit made a like number of drivers “speeders.”
At a recent meeting in Washington, DC, the leader of the NHTSA anti-drinking and driving platoon was lamenting the fact that persons with BACs of .1% to .12 percent were passing through DWI roadblocks, undetected, because they weren’t exhibiting any noticeable degree of impairment. His solution was to employ unobtrusive monitors that could detect alcohol in the car so that persons with low BACs who were not showing any sign of impairment could be tested and hopefully arrested. He was also perplexed that police officers too often wanted to concentrate on obviously intoxicated drivers, rather than go after those sneaks who just had a few drinks and were driving in a safe and prudent manner.
Is this pattern starting to look familiar?
- Use emotion and hysteria to justify an unreasonable law: “speed kills” or “drunk drivers are responsible for 50 percent of all fatal accidents”
- Tighten the legal standard to the point that almost everyone is in violation of the law: 55 mph national maximum speed limit, or .08 BAC for automatic conviction as a “drunk driver”
- Employ new technologies to identify violators not otherwise apprehendable by normal means: RADAR, laser, photo RADAR, and VASCAR speed measurement devices; breathalyzers; alcohol detecting flashlights; and DWI road blocks
- Demand ever more onerous sanctions and penalties to stem the rampant noncompliance: high fines, license suspensions, vehicle confiscation, forfeiture and lengthy jail sentences
- When individual drivers resist through the courts, the governmental response is to eliminate due process protections followed by the institution of administrative license suspension, and implied consent laws. Concurrent with these actions is the replacement of real trials with administrative hearings, denying discovery, and eliminating access to jury trials.
- Public-private enterprises that owe their existence to the perpetuation of a “public safety” myth begin to evolve and grow: courts, police, and municipalities dependent on traffic ticket revenue; insurance companies profiting from surcharges; and safety organizations milking the cause of the day.
You may not think you’re a “reckless speeder” or a “drunk driver” but give the social engineers in the public and private sector a chance to set the standards, be it speed limits or blood alcohol content, and you will be-in fact, by their definition, you probably already are.