DUI Double Standard

It has become a national obsession. And, as with most obsessions, decisions and policy are influenced by emotion, not by reason or logic. The emotions driving the policy are influenced themselves b

May 4, 2000 at 2:06 pm

It has become a national obsession. And, as with most obsessions, decisions and policy are influenced by emotion, not by reason or logic.

The emotions driving the policy are influenced themselves by horror stories of lost loved ones: children on a schoolbus, teens on a joyride, a young mother running her errands, a father trying to get home to his family. Those who die are almost immediately sainted, while those who survive are branded for life.

When it comes to drinking and driving, we've decided that accidents do not just happen. And our collective judgment has been fogged by our zeal to set examples.

How can you expect reason from a mother who has lost a son or daughter? You can't. Reason is a poor substitute for a holy mission. And it's political suicide for any legislator to challenge such an emotionally powerful lobby of constituents.

As a result, we now have laws applied to drinking and driving that have no basis in reality.

Reality: There's no such thing as "social drinking." Alcohol is a drug that's consumed for its effect. It's been the favorite drug for this purpose since before written history. Drugs are so hard-wired into our makeup that the human mind even seeks out substances to alter its consciousness. It's part of who we are.

Reality: We've been threatened and influenced by these emotionally potent testaments and their corresponding legislative effects for roughly two decades now, yet the horror stories have taken on a bizarre twist. We have the toughest DUI laws ever, and they keep getting tougher, yet we're continually bombarded with the latest outrage of repeat offenses — four DUIs, eight DUIs, 17 DUIs!

It should be plain to all, in the face of these numbers, that such situations don't arise without the complicity of the very states who have picked up the crusade against drunk driving. Despite the speeches and "get tough" grandstanding, it's not in the interest of the state to solve the problem of drunk driving. Why?

Reality: DUIs are big business. State and county governments bring in millions of dollars in fines, reinstatements and court costs. Lawyers build entire careers with DUIs — look at their advertising. To social service agencies, in cahoots with these governments, DUIs are their bread and butter. And, of course, politicians seeking higher office can always make an attractive stand by being tough on drunk drivers.

The system is structured in order to get as many convictions as possible, which helps the cops, the judges, the lawyers and the social service agencies — everyone except the drinker. Once he's squeezed dry by the system, he's then tagged in order to be convicted again as quickly as possible. All law enforcement has to do is run his plate, see his scarlet letter "A" and he can be quickly pulled over for any trifling or made-up offence under suspicion for DUI. And, more than likely, the suspicions will bear fruit. Why?

Reality: Johnny Law doesn't care how much you had to drink, just whether or not there's enough alcohol on your breath to bust you. Even under the old .1 percent standard, breathalyzers are sensitive enough to be set off by mouthwash. With the mad rush to lower the threshold to .08 percent, nearly anyone leaving a bar on a weekend night, unless they've had nothing to drink, is legally drunk — and a potential bust.

It's just that much easier to target those with a prior offense. And it keeps the "social drinkers" under the convenient perception that drunk driving is done by "other people" and so doesn't apply to them.

Given these plain realities, is it that difficult to spot at least a partial solution? Supposedly, legal IDs are required to purchase alcoholic beverages and to get into drinking establishments. This is the law. So why, then, can't IDs be magnetically swiped at the bar or cash register to identify problem drinkers and deny them alcohol? Why not apply the "three strikes" rule to alcohol abusers and deny them the drug they're helpless against?

Reality again: Alcohol enjoys a privilege as our favorite drug. It's marketed, romanticized, glamorized, sold and taxed. Its consumption is considered a right as fervently revered as ownership of guns.

Alcohol and tobacco are the main drugs not to be considered drugs. They're legal products, as opposed to controlled substances. And should the imaginary line dividing the former from the latter ever be breached and alcohol be considered the drug that it is, the outcry would be deafening. Not only would alcohol fall from its privileged station in our society and economy, but the whole matter of drug legalization would be burst wide open.

And that would simply be intolerable. We'd much rather have high-minded hypocrisy than even-handed reason. So instead of identifying the problem at its source and limiting the few to protect the many, law enforcement, manipulated by an activist lobby, has opted to limit the many to appease the few.

Everything the activists, the mothers, the legislators, the social workers and the cops do is for a greater purpose — not to prevent drunk driving but to catch as many offenders as they can. Think about that come happy hour. Cheers!