Archive for April 6th, 2011

Losing Sight of the Goal

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

For the past two decades, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has — very successfully — engaged in a holy war against drunk driving and underage drinking. Through MADD’s political pressures on legislators and judges, the offense has been redirected from one of impairment to one of blood-alcohol levels, penalties have been radically increased, and constitutional rights have been commonly ignored. The offense has been demonized in the public eye to the point that it approaches the status of child molesting, and MADD continues to press for outlawing ever-lower blood-alcohol levels.

First, let’s get something clear: drunk driving is dangerous. That’s why we have DUI laws — not to punish the use of alcohol, but to punish those who represent a danger behind the wheel and thereby deter that person and others from endangering the public.

The purpose, then, is protection of the public through deterrence of dangerous conduct.  It is not to punish people for drinking.  If the goal is to protect the public from the dangers of impaired driving, then , why is the focus today solely on alcohol?  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, numerous studies all indicate that, for example, driving while using a cell phone, distracted driving (eating, putting on lipstick in the read-view mirror) and driving while drowsy are at least as dangerous as drunk driving.  See, for example, Drunk Drivers vs Distracted DriversMost Dangerous: Drunk, Drowsy or Distracted?Alcohol vs Cell Phone: Which is More Dangerous? and Inebriated or Texting While Driving – Which is More Dangerous?.Yet we largely ignore these types of life-threatening conduct, while continuing to focus laws and law enforcement on drinking and driving.

Again, I’m not suggesting that we legalize drunk driving; it should be punished. But the hysteria needs to be toned down, and the focus should shift to the danger that impaired driving of any kind represents — not to whether alcohol is involved or not.

Perhaps MADD should concentrate on accident prevention, rather than on a return to prohibition.