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"If you want a Big Brother, you get all that comes with it."---Eric Fromm

Unintended Consequences of Low BAC Standards and Excessive Penalties

A discussion of the unintended and negative consequences of the current catalog of anti-DWI laws is seldom found in the print or electronic media, nor has there been a concerted effort on the part of government or private organizations to research and quantify these effects. As a result, certain of the following remarks are anecdotal rather than being based on actual research results.

"Hit and run, leaving the scene"
Persons who might otherwise assume responsibility for an accident or render assistance to accident victims are intimidated by the possibility of being found guilty of "drunk driving," even if they had drunk very little and were not directly involved in causing the accident. Consequently, they do not stop or render assistance.

"Attempts to elude"
We have read of threefold increases in drivers attempting to outrun police. This increase corresponds with the ratcheting downward of legal BACs and the ratcheting upward of DWI penalties. It has been reported in more than one source that one in four high speed pursuits results in a serious accident, often involving innocent bystanders.

"Avoidance of needed medical treatment"
For fear of being reported to police or being charged at the scene of an accident for DWI, people are deliberately leaving an accident scene, injured, and not reporting for treatment until there is no likelihood that they could be charged with DWI. This runs counter to the well-proven practice that immediate injury treatment is the most effective and the most likely to prevent loss of life.

"Economic losses"
The segment of the population most effected, and most intimidated by the current avalanche of DWI laws is not the alcoholic or hardcore drinking crowd. It is that group of people who might patronize eating and drinking establishments, community festivals, company picnics, and related hospitality businesses, and who conduct themselves in a responsible manner. The difference is, with .08% BACs and job threatening sanctions, they are now afraid to participate in this type of social activity with friends and relatives. The businesses and organizations that cater to and sponsor these activities suffer accordingly in lost income and lost support.

"Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities"
With the decrease in alcohol-related, motor vehicle accidents has come an increase in alcohol-related pedestrian and bicycle accidents. This is not to suggest that society is better off putting these people in automobiles. However, the net result of the current DWI policies is the partial exchange of one type of accident for another.

"Misallocation of public resources"
Intimidating, apprehending, adjudicating, and jailing persons who are not serious hardcore offenders takes valuable resources away from locating, stopping, and treating the persons who are most likely to cause a DWI-related accident. The system can only process and accommodate so many people. The choice is to focus on those who are causing the problem, or severely punish the general population that crosses an arbitrary BAC threshold.

"Inequitable personal consequences"
The "one size fits all" and "hang 'em from the highest tree" mentality that dominates current anti-DWI strategies does not fairly accommodate the diversity of circumstances involved with DWI convictions. A high risk, accident-prone, repeat offender may view a DWI conviction as one of life's little inconveniences and a chance to live off the county for 30 days. Conversely, a well-educated, successful employee and family man might lose his job, future employment opportunities, and reputation for a one-time technical violation of a BAC standard based on politics and platitudes.

The standard retort to any of the aforementioned concerns is "don't drink and drive and you won't suffer these consequences." This is comparable to saying "if you don't want to get speeding tickets, don't drive over the speed limit."

Any law or regulation aimed at human activity must have an element of reasonableness. It must recognize that there are always competing motivations that dictate human behavior.

Most people drive to reach a destination. The purpose of that destination may be work, family responsibilities, maintenance tasks, socializing, or recreation.

In our society (as in most societies), the vast majority of the adult population consumes beverages containing alcohol. If this is at the destination end of their trip, they will inevitably be returning with some amount of alcohol in their systems. In modest amounts, this rarely causes a problem or safety risk to others. Most people recognize this and act accordingly, in a responsible manner.

A zero tolerance approach to drinking and driving will not work. Moreover, it will expose motorists to a rash of officially sanctioned abuses that will exceed any of those we currently endure.

That brings us back full circle to the establishment of a reasonable standard that can be recognized, understood, and complied with by reasonable people. The standard that meets that criteria is one based on discernable impairment.

Discernable impairment need not be BAC dependent. Different people experience different levels of impairment at the same BAC levels. If a person's driving indicates impairment (e.g., erratic maneuvers of speeds, or running into fixed objects) and they have alcohol in their systems, they should be a candidate for a DWI citation.

If a single standard BAC is to be established as the automatic threshold for a DWI citation, it should be high enough to reflect discernable impairment among the general population. An appropriate and enforceable BAC of .12% would represent a reasonable standard.

Please note that we are not saying a .12% BAC is necessary for a DWI conviction. Rather, that for an automatic DWI conviction that does not involve or require discernable impairment the BAC must be at least .12%. Given that the average DWI arrest involves a BAC of .15% to .17% (regardless of the legal BAC), a .12% BAC remains well below the typical level for DWI arrests. It is also a level of intoxication that most persons will recognize as representing a degree of impairment.

Penalties and punishment for DWI convictions should reflect the degree of intoxication and the severity of the circumstance. A person charged with having a .25% BAC should be assessed a greater penalty than someone charged with a .12% BAC. Furthermore, if an intoxicated driver causes property damage or personal injury, the penalties should reflect those losses and be paid to the victims, not the state.

By targeting higher BAC operators and repeat offenders, the state can focus its enforcement and treatment efforts on truly dangerous drivers, the small percentage of true drunk drivers that menace our streets, roads, and highways.

This excerpt is from the website of the National Motorist's Association. 

"It is a great nuisance that knowledge can be acquired only by hard work."---Somerset Maugham

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