Conspiracy theorist

Drunk driving laws make roads less safe

 by Mark Luedtke

 Security expert Bruce Schneier said Americans need to relearn how to assess risks and their costs: “We’re afraid of risk. It’s a normal part of life, but we’re increasingly unwilling to accept it at any level. So, we turn to technology to protect us. The problem is that technological security measures aren’t free. They cost money, of course, but they cost other things as well. They often don’t provide the security they advertise, and – paradoxically – they often increase risk somewhere else. This problem is particularly stark when the risk involves another person: crime, terrorism and so on. While technology has made us much safer against natural risks like accidents and disease, it works less well against manmade risks.”

Schneier lists fighting crime, zero tolerance in schools and fighting the war on terror as three examples, but he might as well be talking about government’s drunk driving laws. Wanting to reduce risk is natural instinct, but cost-benefit analysis takes reason. Government schools and the daily barrage of alarmism have brainwashed Americans into being unable to perform rational cost-benefit analysis when it comes to risk mitigation. This empowers our rulers to use any risk – no matter how small – as an excuse to mercilessly oppress and loot us.

Mark Crovelli described the logical fallacy that governs most people’s perception of drunk driving laws as well as other prohibition laws: “[People] have been told year after year by the government that created and enforces these laws, that drunk driving is one of the very worst crimes a man can commit, and that, were it not for the government’s ruthless pursuit of these dangerous criminals, there would indeed be unchecked slaughter in the streets. Any arguments to the contrary, claiming that we could reduce both the incidence and danger of drunk driving by legalizing it, appear completely absurd to these people. They dismiss these arguments out of hand because they have adopted the government’s ridiculous conception of the drunk-driving issue…”

The fallacy goes something like this: Drunk drivers are dangerous and can kill people. The government punishes drunk driving with drunk driving laws. Therefore, drunk driving laws make us safer.

But it’s not true.

Radley Balko tells the inconvenient truth about drunk driving laws, “Consider the 2000 federal law that pressured states to lower their BAC (blood alcohol content) 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.”

Balko explained criminalizing people who were not a problem had a predictable effect: “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.”

Lowering the legal limit caused more deaths, but Balko described how it gave police and politicians a powerful new tool – the DUI checkpoint – to enrich themselves at our expense: “When local newspapers inquire about specific roadblocks after the fact, they inevitably find lots of citations for seat belt offenses, broken headlights, driving with an expired license and other minor infractions. But the checkpoints rarely catch seriously impaired drivers. In 2009, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, 1,600 sobriety checkpoints in California generated $40 million in fines, $30 million in overtime pay for cops, 24,000 vehicle confiscations and just 3,200 arrests for drunk driving. A typical checkpoint would consist of 20 or more cops, yield a dozen or more vehicle confiscations, but around three drunk driving arrests.”

That’s great for the looters, but it’s terrible for the people in general. And it depresses the economy.

Balko explained the problem is the focus on alcohol instead of dangerous driving: “The threat posed by drunk driving comes not from drinking per se, but from the impairment drinking can cause. That fact has been lost in the rush to demonize people who have even a single drink before getting behind the wheel – exemplified by the shift in the government’s message from ‘Don’t Drive Drunk’ to ‘Don’t Drink and Drive.’ 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. A 2001 American Automobile Association study found several other in-car distractions that also caused more impairment, including eating, adjusting a radio or CD player and having kids in the backseat.”

Balko concluded, “Singling out alcohol impairment for extra punishment isn’t about making the roads safer. It’s about a lingering hostility toward demon rum.” Exactly.

The views and opinions expressed in Conspiracy Theorist are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes only.

 Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at


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Mark Luedtke
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