Raise Your Glass to the New Year

My plan tonight is to remain true to my New Years Eve tradition.  I’ll be fast asleep by 10 p.m.  Your plans may differ.  If they do, and if they involve a glass of champagne (or some other libation with the potential to enliven your evening), you should be concerned about driving home.

The nature of such concerns vary. Don’t drive drunk. You don’t want to harm anyone.  You don’t want to be arrested.  You don’t want a couple of police officers drawing your blood on the side of the road.  But not driving drunk may fall short of saving you from any of these potential dangers.

Via Charles Platt at the Legal Satyricon, California DUI lawyer  Lawrence Taylor offers the text of a speech he’s developed and given over the years.  Having specialized in DUI defense since 1979, he’s had the opportunity to live through the development of the law, and it shows. 

The speech, The DUI Exception to the Constitution, is long, detailed and thorough.  My practice has never included DUI/DWI defense, and I defer to those far more familiar than me, but his description comports with my memory of how the law, and policy, developed over the years, and how drunk driving went from a hard offense, one based on actual conduct of drivers, to an absolutist offense, divorced from any particular danger, proven despite known scientific failure and devoid of the constitutional protections otherwise afforded.

Here’s a bit to whet your whistle.

I would like you to imagine for a moment that you’ve gone to a friend’s house for dinner. In the course of a very good dinner you’ve had a couple of glasses of a good Merlot [Edit. Note: ?] and it is now time to drive home. I would like you to imagine that you are on your way home — and, I will tell you, by the way, that two glasses of wine will not, in any state, put you under the influence of alcohol or over the legal limit of .08. As you are driving along the highway, you see ahead of you some flashing lights and barricades and police cars cordoned across the highway, with flashing lights directing you into an increasingly small channel. And, as you go in, you are stopped and two police officers approach you and stick a flashlight in your face and say, “Breath on me. Have you been drinking tonight? Please step out of the car.”

Some of you say, “Well, that can’t happen in the United States. We have the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which says police officers have to have probable cause to stop you.”

Of course, we know better.  Read it all.  It’s excellent.  And get home safe tonight, no matter what your plans.

Happy New Year!

6 thoughts on “Raise Your Glass to the New Year

  1. Kathleen Casey

    I turn in early too but didn’t when we could walk two blocks to The Place restaurant for Tom and Jerrys and champagne, and the same distance to get home sometime after midnight. Now and then I miss city living. The risk isn’t worth driving is it?

    Did you ever make it to Times Square, even once?

    2011 will be better. A joyous New Year!

  2. Jdog

    I don’t know what you’re complaining about. Yes, in the DUI exceptions, we’ve traded off a little liberty, but look at all the security we’ve gotten — drunk driving is now an historical artifact, like the misuse of buggy whips. That’s why MADD disbanded last year. Quoting Betty Sue Lipschitz-O’Reilly, the last Executive Director of the organization: “Ben Franklin once said: ‘They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.*’ He was wrong; we’ve given up the essential liberty of being about to go about our affairs without interference, but we’ve bought safety with that.”

    * Pedantically: Franklin didn’t say that.

  3. SHG

    There are many who contend that Betty Sue Lipschitz-O’Reilly is underappreciated.*
    * Parenthetically, I am not one of them.

  4. Peter Duveen

    My wife and I will have a special dinner in. We won’t venture on the streets past, perhaps, 7pm. But more to the point, the best solution to drunk driving might be to bring the speed limit down to 20 mph. Driving at high rates of speed takes too many lives, drunk or not, and fuel consumption is appreciably higher at 65 mph than at 20. Twenty mph is about what our society can sustain speedwise, what with alcohol and drug use, and general driver error, depletion of petroleum resources, and the cost to consumers of gasoline.

  5. Mark Bennett

    If we were all driving Model As, you’d probably be right. But, while optimal speed varies from vehicle to vehicle, many modern vehicles are more fuel-efficient at 65 than at 20. A ’94 Cutlass, for example, gets twice the mileage per gallon at 65 as at 20 (see Fn. 15 in Wikipedia’s “Fuel Economy in Automobiles” article).

    As for driving at high rates of speed taking lives: it’s not the speed, it’s the speed differential. The guy on the freeway driving “the speed limit” in the left lane is more dangerous than any number of alert drivers doing a ton (100 mph) and maintaining proper lane discipline. Our freeways are built to safely handle high-speed travel, assuming that everyone is focused on the mission: getting from A to B safely and quickly. Astoundingly safe high-speed freeway travel becomes extremely dangerous wherever cars get packed in tight because of people camping out in the left lane.

    You—and everyone around you—would be much safer on the freeway at 75, with everyone else going 75, than on a surface street at 20, with everyone else going between a dead stop and 40.

    Speed is scary to some people; those people should stick to surface streets and, when forced onto the superslab, to the far right lane.

  6. Sojourner

    Scott, wishing you and your family a beautiful, prosperous, meaningful and happy 2011. Thank you for this amazing blog.

    On the drunk driving front: The Galveston County DA who in October successfully prosecuted a man, who received two life sentences for a drunken-driving crash in 2009 that killed two teenage girls was arrested for drunk driving this weekend. He refused the breath test and they had to get a warrant to draw his blood.

    His name is Lester Blizzard. FWIW

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