Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Drunk driving

The problem with laws aimed at preventing drunk driving is that they are written by sober people. If Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) thinks that installing alcohol sensors will prevent drunks from driving, they simply are not aware of the lengths that drunks will go to drive; they will simply get a sober person to ‘blow’ for them—I know, I’ve seen it when I was a cab driver sitting on Ballard Avenue at the 2:00 AM bar rush.

MADD has worked to make the penalties more severe and to some extent this worked. But now that is acknowledged to have limits. If you have lost your job, your spouse and maybe your children, jail and financial penalties are not that big of a deal. In fact, that ‘one day in jail’ is really nothing but a source of a couple of good stories. Guys at the bar will buy you a drink to hear again about your night in jail. Again, as a cab driver I used to pick up the guys from jail and they were laughing about it.

Making the penalties worse won’t work. First, juries will balk at putting people away for long periods for doing something that many of them have done on occasion. Second, as a taxpayer, I am not too thrilled with paying to incarcerate anyone for too long.

But there is a solution: take the vehicle. First offense, six months; second, a year and the third, forever. Locking up a vehicle is not very expensive for the taxpayer but very expensive for most drunks.

There are numerous arguments against such an approach and they are all bogus:

Many families have more than one car (actually, most do.); the convicted drunk will merely switch to another car. Try explaining to your spouse why they have to carpool and are greatly inconvenienced. Right after finishing reading this letter, try calmly walking into the living room and announce that you think that the family ought to ‘give up a car’.

The drunk will go out and buy another junker car. True, but that will get old real fast. And frankly, I doubt if most people would finance you if, the next time, the vehicle may be seized forever.

Drunks will borrow someone else’s car. That’s why we seize the vehicle. The law should apply whoever owns the vehicle whether it is yours, your mother’s, or a cab, bus or delivery van. You’re drunk, the vehicle is ours. I have been a professional driver for twenty years and in all of that time, I never saw a breathalyzer in any shop that I drove out of.

By confiscating the vehicles, we will have a law—not aimed at drunks (alcohol first effects your judgment)—but aimed at the people that can actually do some good. Sober friends, bartenders and others will take your keys. The drinker will argue about it, fight it but the next morning they will come and thank the person who took the keys. They saved their car.

While we are at it, we need to video tape the arrest. When this was done in one Midwest state, and the conviction rate went up to over 90%.

We need to become serious in this effort to stop drunk driving. Confiscation is aimed at the one person that can stop the drunk driving—the sober friend. Losing a car is enough of an incentive that anyone would step in and stop the drunk from driving.

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