Magazine: Focus DUI Laws on Impairment, Not Drinking Per Se

Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason Magazine, recently wrote an article in which he called for the abolition of DUI laws across the United States. While he notes that the idea “sounds radical at first blush,” the reasons he presents for doing so are undeniably thought provoking. We present them here.

First, the idea behind a precise measurement of drunk behavior – i.e., 0.08 – is arbitrary and illogical. People react differently to alcohol. Moreover, impairment also depends on other variables, such as medications a person is taking, whether he or she is sleep deprived, whether the motorist is agitated or enraged for reasons having nothing to do with alcohol, and so forth.
Second, Balko points to enforcement tools, such as sobriety checkpoints, as being ineffectual. He notes that, interestingly, alcohol-related fatalities across the country actually increased following the nationwide 0.08 standard that took effect in 2000, reversing a 20-year trend. The reason why, he posits, is that because people with a BAC under .10 – the older standard – don’t typically drive erratically enough to be noticed by cops. Police thus began instituting checkpoints – now lawful in 37 states – to catch them. In doing so, police departments commonly commit substantial resources, which brings forth this comment from Balko: “Every cop manning a roadblock … is a cop not on the highways looking for more seriously impaired motorists.”

One DUI expert calls checkpoints “the drunk driving exception to the Constitution,” with an officer’s right to immediately suspend a driver’s license for refusal to take a breath test representing a strong exception to an individual’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Third, the focus is simply wrong when it is on the drinking per se and not on impairment. It ignores what numerous studies are now telling us, that other driving behaviors can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving – and sometimes more dangerous. As a motorist, would you rather be driving beside a person who had one drink shortly before or a motorist who is busily engaged in texting? Or shouting at his or her kids in the car? Or playing with a pet?

Balko’s point is this: Punish reckless driving, whether it is caused by talking on a cell phone, eating, changing a CD, having a bad day – or drinking. That will put the focus back on where it belongs – the impairment. It will also “repair some of the civil-liberties damage done by the invasive powers the government says it needs to catch and convict drunk drivers.”

Last, it will add needed consistency to our laws, which Balko says “treat a driver with a BAC of 0.08 much more harshly than a driver distracted by his kids or a cell phone, despite similar levels of impairment.”

If you find yourself at the mercy of an impaired driver, be sure to contact a Tucson car wreck lawyer.

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