Car Guy

MADD Gets Madder

They're enough to drive you to drink.

By 5.12.10

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I don't support drunk driving -- just to get that out of the way.

But the idea that you're "drunk" at the current .08 BAC threshold is a bit much.

Push them a bit and proponents will say you're impaired at .08 in terms of a medically observable decline in reaction times -- and that's true, as far as it goes. But this slight reduction in reaction times has not been shown to correlate with a higher accident rate.

Proponents merely assert that it does, with no facts (such as a greater number of car wrecks) to back it up.

On the other hand, we know that a .10 BAC, which used to be the legal threshold defining drunk driving in most states, does correlate with a higher accident rate. There is actual evidence (more car crashes) to support this. Therefore, it seems reasonable to target people with BAC levels at .10 or higher because they pose an objective, real threat to other motorists (and pedestrians).

That's what the system used to do. The BAC threshold defining "drunk driving" used to be .10 -- because that was the level at which is was known drivers tended to have more accidents.

Not anymore. The lawful maximum BAC nationwide is now .08 and threatens to get knocked down even lower. In many states, you can be arrested for DUI with a BAC level of .06. "Zero tolerance" -- that is, no alcohol whatsoever, is openly discussed.

Which is just silly. Do we really believe people ought to be arrested because they got behind the wheel of a car after having had a sip of wine?

So, how did we get from reasonable DWI laws to here -- objectively unreasonable DWI laws that target social drinkers with even very moderate amounts of alcohol in their systems with a vengefulness that borders on the pathological?

All it took was one "mom."

MADD -- Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- has built a mighty empire in the pursuit of latter-day Prohibition. It is today one of the largest, best-funded, most aggressive political lobbies in the country.

MADD employs a large staff of full-time employees, has highly-paid executives and takes in millions of dollars annually. Lawmakers from the city council level all the way up dread being targeted by MADD and so bend over backwards to support whatever measure MADD puts forward. Do otherwise and, clearly, you must be a supporter of drunk driving.

Launched in the 1980s as a true grassroots movement, MADD has become another D.C. special interest. And its special interest is outlawing any alcohol consumption -- or as close to that as possible.

MADD has gone on record advocating that lawful BAC maximums be lowered to as little as .04 -- a level the average-weight person can reach after consuming a single beer or glass of wine. The organization wants to see people hauled out of their cars and cuffed and stuffed over this.

Which isn't MADD.

It's insane.

The twisted thing MADD has managed to achieve is more or less the same thing that "civil rights" groups have achieved vis-à-vis racial set-asides and preferential treatment. Have the temerity to suggest that consuming any alcohol at all prior to driving -- no matter how little 0- isn't necessarily bad let alone criminal, and you're in favor of "drunk driving."

Just as criticizing affirmative action guarantees catcalls of "racism" from the civil rights industry.

This isn't argument -- it's intimidation. Which is what demagogues do when they can't debate the facts.

And the facts are not on MADD's side.

First, there's the fact that the War on Drunk Driving (Americans have a chubby for wars, don't they?) was won long ago. There is now enormous social stigma associated with driving drunk -- really drunk. In the '60s and '70s middle and upper class people did it often -- cheerfully. One for the road!

Nowadays, it's anathema to climb into a car after a night of boozing it up. It's just not done.

Or not done much.

Very few people (the minority of repeat offending, "problem drinkers" aside) get behind the wheel of a car after having had more than a drink or two -- which is what most people do when they go out for dinner, say, after work.

There's the social stigma -- and there's the prospect of potentially career-ending/life-changing punishment for being convicted of drunk driving.

So most people self-regulate -- or they call or cab.

Second, there's the fact that it's drivers with BAC levels of .10 or above who constitute the problem -- insofar as having accidents goes. Constantly lowering the lawful maximum BAC level doesn't do anything except turn social drinkers into "drunks" by the arbitrary stroke of a lawmaker's pen. It's exactly like having speed limits that are set so low that virtually every driver on the road is technically guilty of "speeding." No harm's being done -- but more and more people are now in the crosshairs of law-enforcement.

Courtesy of MADD.

Meanwhile, the aggressiveness of enforcement -- "sobriety checkpoints" -- continues to step up, even though these checkpoints are lousy at sussing out the real drunks, the drivers with BAC levels of .10 or higher. While the cops spend hours at these checkpoints depriving masses of drivers of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights trying to ferret out some poor schmuck who had two beers over dinner and isn't a threat to anyone, the pro -- the guy with a BAC level in the double digits -- enjoys an enhanced probability of escaping attention simply because there are fewer cops out patrolling the roads. And it is out on the road that one can best find the pros -- because their driving is actually impaired and thus noticeable.

Pros weave and cross over the double yellow; they drive on the shoulder -- and the wrong way up exit ramps.

Because, after all, they are drunk.

And, it shows.

That's how the authorities used to ID them. It worked well.

It could work again, too.

But our current DWI laws -- and MADD, which is largely responsible for them -- aren't designed to be effective, or rather, reasonable. They're designed to target people whose only manifestation of being "drunk" is registering an arbitrary and ever-lower BAC number on a machine. They don't weave or otherwise drive erratically. And they don't get into accidents. (If anything, most people with minor amounts of alcohol in their systems drive more carefully, both to compensate and out of fear of being involved in an accident.)

They'd go unnoticed and probably make it home without incident were it not for all these sobriety dragnets.

But none of this matters to MADD.

All that matters is the cause -- and the sense of mission (and the money and the political power) that comes along for the ride.

I could sure use a drink....

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.