The right solution, however, is not to push the artificial line back farther. Instead we should get rid of it entirely by repealing drunk driving laws.His argument makes tons of sense in light of recent research on distracted driving, in which Balko notes that "Several studies have found that talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free device, causes more driver impairment than a 0.08 BAC." The seemingly obligatory response by pols have been calls for more statutes targeting specific distracting behaviors, but it would make a lot more sense to punish reckless driving per se. Balko says, "Singling out alcohol impairment for extra punishment isn't about making the roads safer. It's about a lingering hostility toward demon rum." Indeed. Brilliant column, Radley.
Consider the 2000 federal law that pressured states to lower their BAC standards to 0.08 from 0.10. At the time, the average BAC in alcohol-related fatal accidents was 0.17, and two-thirds of such accidents involved drivers with BACs of 0.14 or higher. In fact, drivers with BACs between 0.01 and 0.03 were involved in more fatal accidents than drivers with BACs between 0.08 and 0.10. (The federal government classifies a fatal accident as "alcohol-related" if it involved a driver, a biker, or a pedestrian with a BAC of 0.01 or more, whether or not drinking actually contributed to the accident.) In 1995 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied traffic data in 30 safety categories from the first five states to adopt the new DWI standard. In 21 of the 30 categories, those states were either no different from or less safe than the rest of the country.
Once the 0.08 standard took effect nationwide in 2000, a curious thing happened: Alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased, following a 20-year decline. Critics of the 0.08 standard predicted this would happen. The problem is that most people with a BAC between 0.08 and 0.10 don't drive erratically enough to be noticed by police officers in patrol cars. So police began setting up roadblocks to catch them. But every cop manning a roadblock aimed at catching motorists violating the new law is a cop not on the highways looking for more seriously impaired motorists. By 2004 alcohol-related fatalities went down again, but only because the decrease in states that don't use roadblocks compensated for a slight but continuing increase in the states that use them.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Balko: Abolish DWI laws to focus on impaired driving
Reacting to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo's call for a new DWI-lite charge in Texas' statutes, Reason magazine's Radley Balko makes the case for eliminating DWI laws based on blood alcohol content and focusing on impaired driving of all types. The crux of his argument: