The popular (and perhaps populist) approach to drunk driving is increasing strict limits on blood alcohol content (BAC) and increasingly harsh penalties. This is the wrong approach.
Keep in mind when I say this that I’m a DWI lawyer in Albany, NY. I make good money off this system. If there were fewer DWI arrests, and if the consequences were less severe, I’d get fewer clients and I wouldn’t be able to charge as much money for what I do. I’m arguing for an approach that would cost me a lot of money.
DWI laws start (in NY at least) at a BAC of 0.05. You might think otherwise, but I have had clients who were charged with BACs as low as 0.05 (that one was dismissed). I’ve had a couple of others at 0.06 and 0.07 (both resolved with violations not a part of the DUI system).
0.05 is too low of a threshold. So is 0.08. Personally, I don’t believe much in the BAC system at all. If the person is impaired or intoxicated, then prove that. The BAC system makes it easier to convict people, even when they’re not a problem on the road.
I’ve blogged about this before in a DWI-related post on my Albany Lawyer blog.
From the policy perspective, there are other things we can do that would be more effective.
What can we do that would work better? How about a genuine mass transit system for the greater Albany area? Then you zone areas around certain stations for nightlife, with little or no parking nearby. Now drinkers have a way to get to their watering hole without driving. Inherent in this approach is the recognition that drinking is a normal part of human existence, instead of the prohibitionists mindset that drives current laws. Mass transit would save so many lives even beyond DWI.
How about changing local zoning codes so bars can’t have more than 1 parking space for every four customers (figuring # of customers for an average night)? Currently most towns require such establishments to have lots of parking. If we modify the zoning to reduce parking, that would encourage carpooling (with a designated driver, hopefully), mass transit, and taxis.
How about getting rid of speed traps on safe highways, and putting those cops on a detail to look for problem drivers? Remember the TV show CHiPs from years ago. Ponch and Judy (I forget the other guy’s name – John?) would sit on bridges watching the highway and when they saw a problem driver they’d check it out. Now we’ve got these highly trained Troopers sitting in U-turns with the mindless task of tagging safe drivers with a laser and then ticketing them for driving as fast as the Trooper drives on his own time.
All of these things would be more effective, less expensive, and less intrusive in the lives of regular people. DWI charges are devastating to the average Jane or Joe. Let’s stop wasting their money, and while we’re at it, stop wasting ours.
Byy the way, I’ve been accused on occasion of thinking outside the box. I think the ideas above are an example of that. My weakness is not being too good at thinking inside the box. I don’t really consider it a problem but others do.