In Ireland, County Kerry Councillor Danny Healy-Rae proposed changing the law to allow drunk driving permits to rural inhabitants. (source)
Crazier still, it PASSED!
Mind you, I don’t really think it is crazy. In fact, I think that Mr. Healy-Rae is brilliant. I don’t know much about Ireland’s drunk driving laws, but I know that ours are a constitutional abomination. Lawrence Taylor’s The DUI Exception to the Constitution is a must read.
I think that we should follow Healy-Rae’s move here, in the United States. We should restore sanity to the drunk driving laws.
Despite what MADD wants us to believe, drunk driving never was the “carnage” they want us to believe in order to justify their existence and their funding.
My co-Satyriconista, Charles Platt summed it up:
State laws used to [allow] police to make a judgment call about impairment, based on their observations. But that wasn’t good enough for Candy Lightner, whose daughter had been killed by a drunk driver. In the wearying tradition of family members who want to make the death of a loved one seem more meaningful by inconveniencing everybody else, Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The name of this brilliant campaign guaranteed its success. Who could possibly disagree with Mothers (that most sacred category of human being) who wanted to protect their children from alcohol-crazed hit-and-run maniacs? Alas, it ended up criminalizing the people whom it was supposed to protect. (source)
As Platt and Taylor remind us, there was a time when the law punished “impaired” driving. Now, it doesn’t matter if you are “impaired” or not — it matters if a breathalyzer, calibrated to the “average” person says you have a certain blood alcohol content. That measurement is garbage, since if you do not match the “average” calibration, you’re already screwed. Even so, at one time, the law said that .15 BAC was ok. Then, not enough convictions for MADD, so the limit dropped to .12, then .10, then .08, and there are pushes to get it even lower.
Blood alcohol content does not measure “impairment” – it measures BAC, and does not even do it very well. Meanwhile, as Taylor eloquently informs us, we have a swelling body of precedent creating exceptions to our most important constitutional protections, because of this paranoid fear that a drunk driver is waiting (along with a terrorist and a child molester) around every corner.
I do not advocate driving while too impaired to do so. I’ve done it. I worked my way through a few years of college by driving a taxi. I’d lease the cab for 36 hours, and sometimes I would drive for all 36 of them. Yes, I would swing in to Logan Airport and pick up some unsuspecting family after being awake and driving for 35 straight hours. If they had any idea how impaired I was, they would have jumped from the cab while I was weaving and swerving down Storrow Drive. Meanwhile, if a cop pulled me over for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, I’d blow a perfect 0.00 on the breathalyzer. If you talk on a cell phone (hands free or not) you are just as “impaired” as if you were over .10. Meanwhile, every car comes with a handsfree bluetooth hookup. Even minivans designed to be full of screaming children.
Put an over-stressed mother behind the wheel of a minivan full of screaming kids, yakking on her cell phone or the same mother, after a restful night’s sleep and three glasses of wine at dinner, and I guarantee you, you’re more likely to be killed by her in the first scenario.
Drunk driving laws have very little (if anything) to do with safety. They are about cheap political points. How do you say no to a grieving father shrieking “STOP THE DEATH ON OUR HIGHWAYS!” You can’t, not if you want to get re-elected in the age of 24 hour news.
But… half kidding, but half serious, why not have an alcohol permit?
You get your license. You drive for a few years. After you drive for 5 years, you get to go to the DMV and take a test. You drink until your BAC measures .10. Then, you drive an obstacle course. Make the test rigorous. Maybe even require you to come back a few times. You pass? You get a .10 permit. Crank it up every year or so until you are actually “impaired.” If you can show that you can drive, consistently, with a .20 BAC, then fine, drive with a .20 BAC.
But, along with that permit, you must buy a purple flashing light that goes on your roof. And, you must drive at 25% lower than the speed limit.
That way, the people who cower in terror at the boogeyman of the drunk driver, can see the “drunk” driver coming a mile away. They can pull over and let him pass if they are really afraid. Or, since he’s going so slowly, pass him.
Either that, or return the law to the state that it was in when it made sense — driving “while impaired” is illegal. Driving “while having measurable alcohol in your system” is not longer illegal. MADD goes out of business. We get rid of the DUI exception to the Constitution. Everyone wins.