Sunday, July 12, 2009

Driving After Drinking Has An Advocate

The Journal Sentinel spent huge amounts of staff time, money and space in a shrinking paper last year to lay out the need for greater awareness and action about Wisconsin's serious drinking-and-driving culture.

Here is a link to perhaps the paper's most extensive series - - ever - - that featured at least one story from each of Wisconsin's 72 counties.

Few would think that there is an "other side" to this problem, but in the Sunday Crossroads section, the paper's in-house conservative, anti-Big Government columnist contorted himself into supporting some level of drinking and driving.

Granted, it's a column, so it's an opinion, and bless the paper for printing a variety of opinions, regardless of how intellectually challenged or downright goofy they may be.

The argument made is there may be automatic OWI detection equipment built into new cars down the line, and to err on the safer, less litigious side, that equipment might he set to block legal driving not quite at 0.08.

Here's the link.

(Wisconsin's typically American legal limit, at 0.08 BAC, is more generous that in other countries, so we already get a break - - but, really, why would we celebrate it? - - that other more thoughtful folk deem unacceptable. Examples - - in Hungary, Brazil and the Czech Republic, the BAC is 0.00; in Norway and Sweden, 0.02; Japan, 0.03; portions of Canada, 0.05.)

And consider that people who fly airplanes are not allowed to take the controls within eight hours of having any alcohol, and are considered legally-impaired if they were to test at 0.04 BAC - - because alcohol slows down reflexes and muddles judgement.

If we had to abide by those standards, drunk driving crashes would pretty much disappear.

OK - - you say driving and flying are too different to be compared. But take a head-on hit on the highway from a drunk driver, and the differences are suddenly negligible.

If you are on foot, or a motorcycle, the damage inflicted by a motorist at 0.04 can be fatal at 20 miles per hour, even less.

And how about this - - that same federal government that the Journal Sentinel columnist frets about has already established a national limit of 0.04 BAC as establishing legal intoxication for commercial truck drivers.

And 0.05 BAC shows up in laboratory tests establishing significant intoxication for motorists.

Begin to get the picture: 0.08 BAC is already pretty damn enabling.

But oh, baby: imagine the uproar if somehow Wisconsin's legislators freed themselves from the headlock they so eagerly allow the state's alcohol industries' lobbyists to apply and began merely discussing a state BAC legal impairment level for motorists at 0.04.

Or even 0.06.

And we'd see and hear all sorts of phony arguments about Prohibition II. - - which I can guarantee will come into this blog in comments from people who are not reading this carefully.

So here's what I think:

Just as government can establish speed limits and enforce them with radar that can fail electronically, so, too, should government mandate and enforce OWI statutes even if the emerging technology might sometimes suffer a hiccup.

Alcohol is a legal drug, but it is known to impair judgement, motor skills and reflexes, and I'd rather miss encounters with motorists who were really truly at 0.079, but their ignition devices had blocked the car's movement by mistakenly reading 0.08.

Besides: there is a way to get to the same, safer point on the roads without government action.

Truly responsible drinkers outside of their homes can find a designated or sober driver, and should have no problem with setting aside that pleasant glass or two of wine, cold beers or cocktails with their meals for ice tea of a soda instead.

People in other countries and often in this country do this routinely. It's easier than you might think - - a momentary and transitory bit of self-denial.

Think about the number of times you've passed on dessert at the end of a meal, for example. Maybe you really wanted a piece of pie or a sundae, but found any number of reasons to say "no."

You choose.

Driving and drinking at so-called safe levels is inherently risky because it jeopardizes drivers' lives and limbs, and those of other motorists and pedestrians, too.

This is not a matter of defending the merits and appeal of social drinking, or building a case against Big Government as did the newspaper's columnist that is rhetorically inflated, and artificially paranoid.

It's a matter of being socially responsible, and if you can't or won't be enough of an adult to do it on your own, publicly-minded regulation will help get you there.

For your sake and mine. Your loved ones' sake, and mine, too.

Because driving and drinking do not mix.


Forward Our Motto said...

I bet that having decent mass transit would cut down on drunken driving incidents or at least it would cut down on the excuses.

Dave Reid said...

@Forward Our Motto Agreed. It seems to me that is a missing component that could help alleviate some (not all) of drunk driving.

enoughalready said...

I bet part of the opposition to mass transit is due precisely to the idea that it might enable drinking, or drinking to excess.