It started at .10%. Then it was .08%. Now, the National Transportation Safety Board wants to reduce it to .05% blood alcohol content to create a per se crime of drunk driving. And it comes with a plethora of ideas, including steering wheels that can tell from perspiration whether the driver has been drinking, or interlock devices that won’t allow a car to start until the driver has done some heavy breathing,
The New York Times says it’s a good thing.
It is surprising how few drinks can impair a driver’s judgment. A report from the National Transportation Safety Board estimates that alcohol-impaired driving contributes to thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of serious injuries each year. It is right to urge states to reduce that toll by lowering the allowable blood-alcohol concentration for drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
The first sign of a problem is the wiggly word used to make the connection between alcohol and thousands of deaths. See how they snuck it in there, “contribute”? Not “cause,” because there is no evidence that alcohol was the cause, and indeed there is a ton of evidence to the contrary. The statistics are played by including in the numbers any death where anyone anywhere near a car had any alcohol in them, including the victim, without regard to whether alcohol had anything to do with it.
The second sign is that Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the force behind the reduction from .10% to .08% and the public service announcements, the school groups like SADD, and pretty much every initiative relating to drunk driving, doesn’t support this change.
This is shocking. No, worse than shocking. But MADD isn’t just the mothers who have endured a tragedy anymore, but a sophisticated machine. In their zeal to wipe drunk driving from the face of the earth, they realize that this move goes too far. They have thrived on the support of middle America, using the “do it for the children” argument better than anyone else. But this move goes beyond the tipping point of acceptability, and that would spell the death of their power and their effort.
The use of a percentage of blood alcohol content as the definition of a crime is a strict liability offense. You don’t have to drive dangerously. In fact, you can driver perfectly, but you’re still a criminal. You may not put your own interests ahead of society, but just be a pretty normal, law-abiding, happy person, and still you’re a criminal. You may support the death penalty, make cookies for the DAR bake sale, own an AK, but still you’re a criminal.
If the BAC is reduced to .05%, it’s going to change a lot of lives, and the people whose lives it changes aren’t bad people and aren’t going to like it.
The point has been made that if we want to eradicate drunk driving, then it can be done quite easily by making the legal BAC .00%. No drinking, period. Easy. But people aren’t going to like that at all. The argument offered to make the .05% BAC more palatable is that it allows some drinking:
The new standard would not bar all alcohol, but would mean giving up a drink or two. A 180-pound man who might be able to drink four beers or glasses of wine in 90 minutes without reaching the 0.08 limit might have to cut back to three to meet the lower standard. A 130-pound woman who could have three drinks in 90 minutes and stay below the current standard might have two drinks instead.
The advocates want to make this change seem as innocuous as possible, rather than controlling the behaviors of others. Not being much of a drinker, it would likely have no impact on me. But for those who enjoy a bottle of wine with dinner, or live out in no-man’s-land and whose only entertainment is a dozen beers at the highway honky-tonk, they will become criminals.
And that’s the issue. This isn’t about advocating for the right to drive drunk, but about the criminalization of things that are done today by the law-abiding. This isn’t about people making a decision to engage in criminal conduct, but about people not knowing whether they’re going to be a criminal or not.
There are many consequences of this change, together with the other ideas to prevent people from driving drunk, that aren’t being discussed. What happens when the technology of the magic steering wheel fails and cars won’t start? What about the person who shares a car with a convicted drunk driver but is constrained to use the interlock device? What about the person with an emergency who needs to get to the hospital but can’t get the car to start? The list goes on for a long time. Use your imagination.
The Bubble Boy agenda, the Utopia where no one is ever harmed, won’t happen because of this change. There will still be crashes, because people can’t drive worth a damn, and there will still be children who die in crashes. There will be diseases that take the lives of people who don’t deserve to die, even though the television informs us that they’ve cured restless leg syndrome. There will never be that perfect world where no mother has to bury her child.
Still, anyone who has had too much to drink should not get behind the wheel. You are selfish and foolish, and you have no right to put me or my children at risk because you wanted to have a good time. But you can do this because you’re a human being, not because it’s the new crime du jour. And police can, and should, arrest you if you drive recklessly, whether it’s because you’re drunk or you just drive like crap.
It’s hard to argue against something that has become so socially unacceptable as drunk driving. Only a pariah, or a criminal defense lawyer, would be crazy bold enough to speak out against something that saves the lives of children. But when half of America finds itself branded as a convicted criminal, crying in a lawyer’s office that they meant no harm, and caused no harm, it will make more sense.