This personal anecdote is a prequel to our series about drinking and driving.
Drinking and Driving – A Personal Anecdote
By: George Noga – September 3, 2017
Proper public policy about drinking and driving can be summed up in one phrase: laws should focus on actions rather than on conditions. I present a persuasive case that America’s current approach to drinking and driving is wrongheaded. Please bear with me until you have read the entire two-part series of which this anecdote is a prequel.
It was 2:30 AM on New Year’s Day 1964; I was 20 years old and driving home. I carelessly ran out of gas but luckily it was near an all night gas station. I walked to the station for a container of gas. Just as I began pouring gas into the car, two policemen arrived. It was obvious I was sloshed as I labored to hold the funnel and pour the gas. One officer, with a straight face, asked if I had been drinking. It was New Year’s, my car had college and fraternity decals and my motor skills were clearly impaired.
My understated reply was that I had a few drinks earlier in the evening. The second officer asked if I was okay to drive. I blathered something to the effect that I could get home and would be exceedingly careful doing so. The police then suggested I stop at a nearby diner for coffee, whereupon they left with the parting admonition: “Be careful.“
I returned the gas container, stopped for coffee and drove home uneventfully.
There are several fecund facets of this story to speculate about. It could be argued I received privileged treatment as I was a white, well dressed, respectful college student. Legally, it could be argued the officers had not observed me driving; however, they could have held me for public intoxication or simply waited for me to drive and then cited me. Or, they could have held me for underage drinking. However, I knew from the outset the worst thing that would happen to me would be going to the station and drinking coffee with the officers until they deemed me okay to drive.
The police evaluated the situation and correctly concluded I was not a threat to anyone. In that pre-Vietnam era, police would go out of their way to be helpful and their respect was reciprocated. Not only was there no animus between young people and police, there was a reservoir of good will. That is why I intuitively grasped I would not be charged with any violation. That is how things were in 1964 America.
If the same incident occurred today, I would be jailed and charged with DUI. Lacking $10,000 for competent legal defense, I would be saddled with a permanent criminal record and forever barred from the military and many other jobs. I would be subject to a staggering array of risible sanctions including suspended/restricted driving, car boots, hackneyed counseling, alcohol/GPS monitors, curfews, fines, community service, asset forfeiture and even jail time. All of this would be followed by years of highly invasive probation. Is this truly better for America than the situation in 1964?
I know many readers may diverge from me on this subject and I again ask that you suspend reaching a conclusion until you read the following parts of this series. If you agree with the present drinking and driving paradigm, the facts and logic will lead you in a different direction, i.e. to a policy that penalizes actions rather than conditions.
Next up in 3-4 days is Part I of our series: Drinking and Driving in America