The tacit idea motivating Mothers Against Drunk Driving in their merciless "War Against Drunk Driving" is that sober drivers are necessarily safer behind the wheel than drunk drivers. Unfortunately, this idea is totally fallacious. In order to see why this is true, consider the following example from my own life.
Roughly two weeks ago, I attended my rugby club’s end-of-the-season party, which was held at a mansion in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Denver. The event featured catered food and drink — including several kegs of quality beer. It was an extremely enjoyable social event, and every one of the kegs was tapped over the course of several hours. During my several hour stay at the party, I consumed approximately ten beers.
Before you get your blood up over the amount of beer I consumed, bear in mind that I am just a shade under 200 pounds, and I drink beer almost every day of the year. In other words, consuming ten beers over the course of an afternoon and evening is not that big of a deal to me, (and my Mother’s maiden name is Hofmeister, if that explains anything). After the party, I caught a ride up to our team pub and had one more pint with the team.
At the end of the evening, though, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to blow less than Mr. Clinton’s requisite and arbitrary .08 BAC, and I decided I probably ought not to risk a DUI. My teammates, however, had already left the pub, and I had no place to stay for the night. So, I decided to catch a ride back to my truck where I could sleep. I spent the remainder of the night in a smashed heap on the bench-seat of my Ford Ranger.
Sounds somewhat responsible doesn’t it? Thanks to MADD’s "War on Drunk Driving," people like me were choosing to sleep off their buzz before driving home. A victory in the battle against drunk driving!
Unfortunately, while MADD can perhaps claim to have kept me from driving while slightly intoxicated, they cannot thereby claim a victory for safe driving. For, the following morning, I did not even remotely resemble a safe driver. After having overslept in my truck, I woke up with the sun cruelly beating down on my face, and sweat literally forming puddles on my vinyl seats. I also had a headache that nearly blinded me, eyeballs totally lacking moisture, and a kink in my neck that felt like I’d fallen down a flight of stairs. I was a wreck. So, while I was driving home sober that morning, I was also driving horribly — and I knew it.
From this example we can clearly see the fallacy involved in MADD’s most deeply-held belief. It is clearly not true that sober men are necessarily safer drivers than intoxicated drivers. I am a larger than average man who drinks beer almost every day, and I can function completely normally with beer in my veins. I am the first to admit, though, that I am a shockingly poor driver when I have even a slight hangover. But, thanks to MADD and the insane drunk-driving laws in this country, I am encouraged to drive when I know that I am not a very good driver. Some people may be worse drivers when they are drunk than when they have a hangover, but I certainly am not one of them. MADD’s "War Against Drunk Driving," and the draconian laws they have pressured Congress to pass, (utilizing the argumentum ad misericordiam to its fullest extent), forced me to wait to drive until I was in a physically and mentally worse condition. Quite simply, MADD and the U.S. Congress made me a more dangerous driver than I otherwise would have been.
Please don’t object that "when you’re drunk you don’t know you’re a bad driver!" I think know myself better than you do, and I doubt very much that you have ever spent time in my head or body while I’m drunk, hungover — or any other time for that matter. I’ll agree to speak for myself alone if you’ll agree to do the same. If you can honestly tell me you drive better in the morning with a blinding headache, nausea, and the shakes, I’ll try to believe you, but please show me the courtesy in return of believing me when I say that I am an absolutely awful driver with a hangover — much worse so than when I am intoxicated.
The error in MADD’s reasoning is quite simple to identify. Essentially, their error consists of setting up an oversimplified and manifestly imaginary dichotomous comparison between: A) totally sober drivers, and B) drunk drivers. They totally ignore the fact that there exist many more categories than these two — for example, as we have just seen, C) hungover drivers. They seem oblivious to the fact that forcing people to wait to drive will force them to drive with a hangover. And, since people vary in their response to alcohol both when they drink it and the morning after they drink it, it is completely absurd to treat all people who drink alcohol and drive as though they are criminals, when there exist men like me who are better drivers when drunk than when hungover. Or, would MADD like to see "driving with a hangover" punished with the same draconian laws as "drunk driving"? What would the roadside test for that victimless "crime" be? "Get out of the car, Sir. Do you have an implacable urge to eat hashbrowns right now?"
The fact is, and MADD itself admits as much, drunk-driving laws have not succeeded in reducing drunk driving. In fact, MADD’s own webpage claims that "In 2002, surveys estimates that Americans took over 159 million alcohol-impaired driving trips, compared with only 116 million in 1997." If the solution to drunk driving lies in increasingly severe and heartless punishment of drunk driving, then why is this not reducing the number of people driving drunk?
Perhaps we ought to look past MADD’s inflammatory rhetoric, so that we can find a dispassionate and realistic solution. Perhaps that solution lies in the realm of freedom; that is, only punishing people when they actually hurt other people. After all, it has always been illegal to willfully or negligently kill another human being.
So, why do we need drunk-driving laws at all?
Mark R. Crovelli [send him mail] writes from Denver, Colorado.