The failed experiment with prohibition proved that the “direct approach” to eliminating “Demon Rum” will not work. The government wasn’t able to just outlaw drinking and thereby kill off the demand for alcohol-based beverages, or the businesses that sell beer, wine and liquor. However, after 50 years in the shadows, the anti-drinking movement discovered “driving while intoxicated” as its salvation.
This discovery coincided with the very real need to re-evaluate the society’s attitude toward drunk driving. Drunk driving was and is a serious problem and one that needed to be addressed in a rational manner. However, in 20 years we have evolved from using drunkenness as an excuse for improper behavior and a means to avoid appropriate punishment to a system where the mere presence of alcohol is grounds for mandating incredibly harsh and excessive penalties, even though no person or property was harmed and the alcohol may not have had any effect on causing a negative situation.
The pendulum has clearly swung too far in one direction.
The Magnitude Of The DWI Problem
We frequently hear that drunk drivers “cause 50% of all highway fatalities.” This falls into the category of “tell a big enough lie long enough and loud enough and people will believe it.”
The truth is closer to 10% of all highway fatalities are CAUSED by drunk drivers. This isn’t good, but let’s at least put the issue in perspective. Our government and certain self serving “non-profit” organizations have exaggerated this problem beyond any sense of reality to promote an agenda that eliminates basic individual rights, undermines our system of due process and heaps onerous penalties on people who have not injured anyone and may not have met any reasonable standard of “impairment.”
So where do the numbers that we hear being repeated time after time come from? The “government speak” term is “alcohol-related.” This term was created to deliberately mislead and confuse the general public about the magnitude of the drunk-driving problem. When you hear some “expert” state that 40 or 50 percent of all fatal accidents are “alcohol related,” the intention is to make you believe that drunk drivers are responsible for causing all these fatalities. This is pure propaganda.
The federal government defines an alcohol-related fatal traffic accident as an accident where someone died and a person involved in the accident had some measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system. For example, a sober driver hits a pedestrian who has been drinking, even modestly. That’s considered an alcohol-related accident. A sober driver rear-ends a driver that has had something to drink. That’s considered an alcohol-related accident. A man has a drink before committing suicide in his vehicle. That’s an alcohol-related accident. A driver has a single drink and is involved in a fatal accident that he did not cause. That’s considered an alcohol-related accident. Do these sound like “drunk-driver-caused” accidents to you? That’s what the government and the anti-drinking organizations would like you to believe.
In all motor vehicle accidents, where a driver is given a traffic ticket, or is arrested, only 7 % involve an alcohol-related violation. This number is far more indicative of the “drunk driver” problem.
Deception And Propaganda
Twenty years of self-serving “studies,” public service advertisements, victim testimonials and political pandering have completely confused and deceived the American public on the subject of drinking and driving, including the 70 to 80 percent of the adult population that drinks beverages containing alcohol. Here are just a few of the lies that have taken on the impression of “truths.”
Myth: Even having one drink greatly increases the likelihood of being in an accident.
Truth: Drivers with low blood alcohol content are no more likely to be in an accident than drivers who have had nothing to drink.
Myth: Blood alcohol content is a reliable indicator of driver impairment.
Truth: Persons who regularly consume alcoholic beverages are typically less impaired at a given BAC than someone who only drinks infrequently.
Myth: Breathalyzers are (1) a reliable and consistent indicator of Blood Alcohol Content, and (2) Blood Alcohol Content is a reliable and consistent indicator of driver impairment.
Truth: Breath alcohol content is highly inconsistent as a measure of blood alcohol content from person to person and situation to situation. Levels of actual impairment at low to modest BAC levels are highly variable between individuals and are also affected by a wide range of common factors.
Myth: An average size man or woman can consume three, four, or even five drinks in an hour and not exceed the BAC threshold for a DWI violation.
Truth: The BAC will increase in your system for anywhere between one-half hour and three hours after you have stopped drinking, even while the level of impairment may be declining. Most women who have three or more drinks in an hour, or men who have four or more drinks in an hour will exceed the legal BAC limit for DWI for an extended period of time after they have ceased drinking. (In situations where food is being consumed during the period of drinking, the BAC will continue to elevate for up to six hours after the last drink.)
Myth: Lowering the legal BAC limit for DWI will get the “drunks” off the road.
Truth: People at .1 or .08 are not automatically “drunks” and they are not the people who should be targeted for DWI enforcement. The average DWI violator is arrested with a BAC of .15 to .17 percent. Even in countries with extremely low legal BAC limits (e.g. Sweden at .02), the average DWI arrest involves a BAC of at least .15 percent.
Myth: Lowering the BAC to .08 % will reduce alcohol-related accidents.
Truth: This is partially true. Extremely low BAC standards do cause moderate responsible persons to avoid drinking and driving, and as a result there are fewer alcohol-related accidents because there are fewer people driving with some level of alcohol in their systems. However, because alcohol at low BAC concentrations is typically NOT the CAUSE of the accident, what we have is a commensurate increase in non-alcohol-related accidents. In other words, there are the same number of accidents, with a transfer of the alcohol-related to the non-alcohol related categories.
So Who Profits From This?
The anti-drinking and driving industry is interwoven throughout our private and public sectors. Whole federal and state bureaucracies are funded with your tax dollars for the sole purpose of making sure you get arrested for drunk driving, suffer accordingly, and repent for your anti-social behavior, namely drinking beer, wine, and or liquor. That no one was hurt, or even inconvenienced, doesn’t matter!
Then there are the private organizations, most of which have abbreviations that end in “ADD.” These groups gather in millions of dollars in donations to keep the war on drinkers focussed and intense. They can’t afford to “solve” the problem. That would eliminate their reason to exist. They can’t admit that folks with a .1% or .08% Blood Alcohol Content are not likely to be involved in a serious automobile accident. Nor can they afford to shift their attention to the chronic hard-core and dangerous drunk driver. This kind of person and his or her problems don’t lend themselves to “cookbook” solutions and demagoguery.
In far too many areas, the courts and enforcement agencies have a vested interest in the arrest and conviction of drinking drivers, even though these drivers are not endangering themselves or anyone else. State laws are rampant with surcharges, fines, assessments and noble sounding gimmicks to extract as much money as possible from so-called “drunk drivers.” Wages, salaries, capital improvements, and even retirement programs are increasingly dependent on traffic fines of all kinds. But, DWI fines, property forfeitures, and insurance surcharges that ultimately can reach several thousands of dollars are the real “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
At the onset of this discussion we acknowledged the need to address the true drunk-driving problem. But, the true drunk-driving problem will not yield to slogans, heart-rending stories, PR campaigns and ever lowering BAC standards. There are no “one size fits all” solutions. Medical treatment, counseling, supervision, ignition interlock devices, vehicle confiscation or incarceration are commonly available “tools.”
What will not address the true drunk-driving problem is the harassment and abuse of a portion of the population that is not causing the problem. Unfortunately, the latter is the approach being taken by government agencies and anti-drinking organizations. This is evidenced by tactics such as roadblocks, diminished due process rights, absurdly low per se BAC standards, and tax-supported propaganda that distorts the real issues and misleads the public’s understanding of the magnitude and real nature of this problem.