Drinking and driving laws are based on blood alcohol concentration or BAC; this is a deeply flawed paradigm. A BAC of .079% is legal; should it be one-thousandth of one percent higher at .080%, your life becomes a living hell. Penalties are not much harsher for BAC above .08%. If you are arrested driving recklessly at double that BAC, your penalty is not much more than for driving safely at .08% BAC.
BAC is relative; it varies based on weight, gender, BMI, physical condition, time, genetics, food consumption, testing equipment and factors still unknown. Different studies reach conflicting conclusions about how much alcohol it takes to reach .08%. One widely accepted study shows consuming 8 ounces (1.6 glasses) of wine over 75 minutes put half the subjects over the limit. The NTSB now wants to lower BAC by nearly 40% to .05%, criminalizing driving after drinking of one glass of wine.
The term “impairment” is grotesquely misused. The proper standard should be when alcohol first becomes a potential danger – not the onset of impairment. People are impaired for myriad reasons: age, health, combing hair, applying cosmetics, talking, texting, children in the car, music, medicines, eating, emotions, drowsiness, dogs, insects, day dreaming and drinking hot coffee. If an impairment standard is to be used, a great many people (perhaps most) would be disqualified from driving.
I can’t find one study that objectively assesses the risks of drinking and driving. Most studies use an “alcohol was involved” standard. That term is meaningless because it is applied when: (1) only a passenger was drinking; (2) the driver’s BAC was legal; (3) the person drinking wasn’t at fault; and (4) a pedestrian was drinking. There are studies that tangentially shed some light. One state determined that fatalities were caused by speeding (37%), no seat belt (31%), other (19%) and alcohol (13%). In Florida, only 400 of 32,000 accidents studied (1.25%) “involved” BAC above .08%. Again, beware the term “involved” as alcohol was not necessarily the cause.
Basic logic dictates drinking and driving is not the bogeyman most believe. The Orlando, FL SMA has 15,000 establishments serving alcohol, plus people drink at work, home and elsewhere. I estimated how many drink each day and then drive. In a year that number is 50 million which results in one death per million in Orlando. To place this in perspective, that risk is the same as dying falling from a ladder, drowning in a bathtub or being electrocuted. You are 10 times more likely to die in a fire.
Laws based on BAC do little to deter those who are a real threat. Instead, they criminalize anodyne behavior and make responsible Americans even more cautious. They inject the heavy hand of government into everyday life and diminish our liberty. Today’s laws result from pressure groups brandishing ersatz statistics and are not based on objective reliable data. The pressure for ever more Draconian alcohol laws comes mainly from bi-coastal elites attempting to impose a nanny state on America.
In a nation of 325 million there always will be horrific drunken driving accidents. They never can be totally eliminated even in places where drinking and driving is banned. In the final part of this series we present a plan that reduces drinking and driving accidents while resulting in more liberty and less government for America.
Next up is the final part of our series: Drinking and Driving in America.