DUI, MADD and the “New Prohibition”

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on October 20th, 2004

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a well-organized (over 600 chapters), well-funded (IRS Form 990 shows revenue for 2002 of $48,051,441) and dangerous group of well-intentioned zealots — the very same folks who gave us Prohibition decades ago.For many years now, MADD’s agenda has been clear: apply political pressure to get ever-harsher drunk driving laws, law enforcement and punishment.

But what is the final goal? When will we have reached a state when MADD is satisfied that the drunk driving laws are sufficient?

The answer is simple: zero tolerance. No drinking and driving. And, eventually, no drinking. Exaggeration? Paranoia? Let’s look at a little DUI history…..

The original drunk driving laws were simple and fair: Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Then, years ago, law enforcement came up with crude devices to measure alcohol on the breath of drunk driving suspects. But what did, say, a .13% blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) mean?They turned to the American Medical Association which, in 1938, created a "Committee to Study Problems of Motor Vehicle Accidents"; at the same time, the National Safety Council set up a "Committee on Tests for Intoxication".

After some study, these two groups came up with their findings: a driver with .15% BAC or higher could be presumed to be "under the influence"; those under .15% could not. That’s right, .15%. And that recommendation lasted for 22 years. But certain groups of "concerned mothers" were not happy with the low DUI arrest and conviction rates.

Under increasing political pressure, the committees "revisited" the question in 1960 and agreed to lower the presumed level of intoxication to .10%. Had the human body changed in 22 years? Had the AMA been negligent in their earlier studies? Or were politics and law trumping scientific truth?

Well, the arrest and conviction rates shot up, but there were still too many people escaping the DUI net. Then MADD was formed by Candy Lightner (later to quit the organization and become a spokesperson for the liquor industry). Soon after, legislation began appearing in many states that created a second crime: driving with a BAC of .10% or higher.

This new crime did not require the driver to be affected by alcohol: even if sober, he would be guilty if his blood-alcohol was .10%. In effect, it completely ignored the questions of intoxication, driving impairment and individual tolerance to alcohol. And, despite questions of double jeopardy, the individual could be charged and even convicted of both the traditional DUI and the new .10% crimes! This gave police and prosecutors a powerful new weapon, and drunk driving arrests/convictions jumped once again.

This was not good enough. Under increasing pressure from an ever more powerful MADD, in 1990 four states lowered the blood-alcohol level in DUI cases to .08%; others soon followed and, ten years later, federal politicians (with one eye on MADD) passed an appropriations bill in effect coercing all states into adopting the new .08% BAC standard. Since then, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has pressured state legislatures to drop the blood-alcohol level to .05%. In the meantime, they had been successful in getting nearly universal adoption of a .01% BAC standard (termed "ero tolerance") for drivers under 21.

So where are we headed with MADD in apparent control? A federal .05% DUI standard is on the horizon and, in fact, has already been adopted to some extent in a few states. "Zero tolerance" for adult drivers is clearly on MADD’s agenda.

And then?

In 1999, MADD’s National Board of Directors unanimously voted to change the organization’s mission statement to include the prevention of underage drinking. Not underage drinking and driving — just drinking. Let me say that again: MADD has now formally shifted its focus away from "drunk driving" and towards the broader "problem" of drinking.

Can a new era of prohibition be far behind?

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