Recently, the NTSB proposed lowering the DUI BAC threshold to .05 from the current .08 number. See Mike M. Ahlers, Tougher drunk-driving threshold proposed to reduce traffic deaths, CNN on-line, May 13, 2013. It claims that this lower number will reduce deaths. No doubt. So will making guns “illegal.” So will banning swimming pools. So will banning tobacco products. So will outlawing all gas power cars and replacing them with horse-drawn carriages. The fact is that life is risk. There are many things we do that seem stupid and even life threatening to ourselves and others (consider NY Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to ban all sugary drinks more than 16 ounces), but few of those activities are as demonized as alcohol.
Consider a few statistics…
“Not only did the number of people killed in drunk driving crashes in 2011 (9,878) drop by 2.5 percent from the number killed in 2010 (10,136), but this decline outpaced the 1.9 percent decrease in overall highway deaths.” MADD, Drunk Driving Deaths Fall Below 10,000, Dec. 10, 2012.
“From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.” CDC info page on drowning deaths.
“In the United States in 2009, 205,974 people were diagnosed with lung cancer, and 158,081 people died from it. CDC has a number of programs for preventing and controlling lung cancer.” CDC Lung Cancer Deaths info page.
Only 1/3 of all traffic fatalities were caused by drunk drivers. Impaired Driving: Get the Facts, CDC.
Hence, if we really wanted to stop death we’d stop another 20,000 by banning all driving, or perhaps lower the speed limit to 20 MPH. Swimming pools are death pits, so lets save 3500 lives a year by outlawing them, too. Ban tobacco and save 200,000 lives a year. I’d dip my toe in the gun control debate, but the Second Amendment makes it clear that this issue was settled over 200 years ago. I’m willing to sacrifice lives to maintain our other freedoms.
What’s my point? Simple. From a practical standpoint, it takes approximately 3 beers consumed within 2 hours to get to the current limit of .08 BAC. See Clemson Redfern Health Center BAC info page. Hence, only 1.5 will get someone to .05. I already advise my clients who have been arrested for DUI to also not drink AT ALL if they are driving. Officers profile prior offenders, so you’ve got a target on your back once that first DUI hits you. This new proposal compels me to give the same advice to those who have never faced the nightmare of a DUI arrest and prosecution.
1.5 drinks. That’s it. It’s not a question of whether you’re impaired. You could be sober as a rock and still get a DUI if you’ve only had 1.5 drinks. This is a simple matter of Big Brother legislating alcohol out of society. Forget social drinking. Forget drinking wine at the restaurant. It’s too risky. 1.5 drinks. Forget bars staying in business. Sure, some who read this may be okay with the above outcomes, but it seems to me that our finite resources should be spent on things that are more important. Sure, 10,000 deaths is tragic, but how many more heinous crimes will go uncontested with police chasing down sober .05 BAC drivers? Shouldn’t the money to be spent on enforcing such laws be spent on eradicating cancer?
In Kansas and many other states we are facing major budget shortfalls. Here, the legislature has refused to impose prison time for repeat felony DUIs. They serve 12 months in county jails not prison. The reason is simple. If such offenders were sent to prison there would be no space left for rapists, murderers, drug dealers, etc. My informal survey of judges and prosecutors tells me that the .05 threshold would multiply the local jail problem tenfold. The state budgets for treatment and housing DUI offenders would be overwhelmed. To be frank, I think part of their objection is that they drive at the .05 level, and they know that if they aren’t drunk after consuming 1.5 drinks then neither are the people they’d be forced to prosecute and convict.
The good news is that most state legislators aren’t married to MADD like they once were. Thus, it is likely they will consider all the above points as well as a few of their own and not implement this ridiculous standard.
As Ben Franklin put it, “Those willing to sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.” He was probably drinking a large mug of beer and smoking a pipe full of tobacco when he said it.