For years I've been preaching that the focus of the so-called "war on drunk driving" should be on the problem drinker — the alcoholic with prior convictions and/or very high blood-alcohol levels — rather than on the far more commonly arrested social drinker. See my June, 2006, blog post "Time for a Change". Dealing with the problem drinker is addressing the source of most alcohol-related traffic fatalities; punishing social drinkers is simply a prohibitionist war on alcohol.
Finally, signs that the voices of reason are beginning to be heard over the hysterical screams of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In today's Wall Street Journal:
Drunk Driver Data Don't Walk Straight Line Either
Rarely Do Intoxicated Motorists Get Caught, and When They Do, the Meaning of Blood-Alcohol Levels Is Hazy
What makes a drunken driver really drunk?
That question was highlighted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving's decision Monday to remove a liquor-industry-funded group from a high-profile campaign to prevent drinkers from taking the wheel. The group, called the Century Council, argues on its Web site that hard-core drunken drivers cause most alcohol-related traffic deaths, and therefore any crackdown should focus on them…
The dispute over crash statistics is complicated by the number universally used to measure drunken driving: blood alcohol content. It is rarely monitored by drivers and poorly understood even by the most sober minds. Despite this confusion and the fuzziness of test results, penalties for drunken driving tend to be more black-and-white than for speeding fines, which increase as speed does.
MADD split with the Century Council because the two groups disagreed about a penalty requiring drivers caught above the limit to install an ignition interlock, a device that prevents those convicted from driving whenever their breath alcohol is too high. The liquor-backed group told several states it only supported this measure for the most hard-core drivers. These include repeat-offenders and people whose blood alcohol content exceeds 0.15 grams per deciliter of blood — a much higher level of alcohol content than the legal limit of 0.08.
The basis for the Century Council's hard-core threshold comes from government tests of drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes in 2007, showing three out of five had a BAC of at least 0.15.
Other research establishes that these heavy drinkers are far more dangerous than other drunken drivers on the road. Paul Zador, a statistician at the research company Westat, has compared the blood-alcohol levels of drivers killed in crashes with levels of drivers stopped for random roadside testing during peak drunken-driving hours. That helped him estimate how likely it is that an extra drink will prove fatal. Compared with sober drivers, drivers at 0.15 or higher were about 400 times more likely to die in a crash. Drivers with levels between 0.10 and 0.14 were 50 times more likely than sober drivers to die in a crash…
Complicating matters, people's alcohol-metabolism varies, as does the relationship between their breath alcohol — which is what is usually measured — and their blood alcohol. That has been a favorite line of argument for some defense attorneys. In response, some jurisdictions have based their laws directly on breath-alcohol levels, according to Rankine Forrester, chief executive of Intoximeters Inc., which makes breath-alcohol testers. That solves the legal gray area but creates a scientific one, because intoxication arises from blood alcohol, not breath alcohol.
A hint of reason in all the MADDness…