Part I of our series highlighted serious flaws in America’s present blood alcohol (BAC) based drinking and driving laws. This post presents a superior paradigm, one that focuses on a driver’s actions much more than on his/her BAC. We should be far more concerned with what a driver does than with his/her blood alcohol level.
Driving with elevated (.08%) BAC would remain illegal; however, it would be a misdemeanor; offenders would receive citations similar to traffic tickets. Speeding fines increase with the speed over the limit; so it would be for BAC above .08%. Ultra high BAC (above .2%) can be dangerous and should be a serious offence. Open containers would be legal; this behavior harms no one and is part of our liberty.
Our new paradigm punishes actions more than conditions. There would be no added penalty for driving with elevated BAC if stopped for a non-moving violation such as an expired tag. Lesser moving violations (creeping through a stop sign) would carry added fines for elevated BAC. Speeding with elevated BAC would be a much more serious offense. In all cases, the higher the BAC, the more severe the penalty.
Dangerous actions (careless/reckless driving, causing an accident) with elevated BAC are dealt with more harshly than at present. The worst drunken driving offenders permanently forfeit their right to drive. Special law enforcement units would monitor such offenders with surprise inspections and immediately jail offenders. Drivers under age 21 would have zero tolerance for BAC above zero. Drivers 16-18 would be subject to restrictions on number of passengers and a curfew. If they drive with BAC above zero, they lose the right to drive for a long time and are subject to the inspections.
Focusing on actions more than on conditions (BAC) has five major benefits.
1. It punishes truly dangerous actions of drivers with elevated BAC much more than the present system. It permanently removes the most dangerous drunk drivers from the roads. It deals much more harshly with high risk young drivers who drink.
2. Drivers are incentivized to minimize BAC, to drive safely and to obey all traffic laws. The present system makes little distinction between BAC levels and treats drivers above the limit the same whether they are driving safely or recklessly.
3. Penalties are fair, logical, proportional and progressive. Drivers always know where they stand. As long as they drive safely, their BAC is not a factor. They needn’t worry that a one-thousandth of one percent change in BAC will totally upend their lives.
4. It breeds respect for the law. Currently, hordes of responsible Americans flaunt open container and drinking and driving laws. Tens of millions drive each day after having a few drinks, knowing it is sheer caprice who gets ensnared in the BAC dragnet.
5. All Americans will have more liberty and less government intrusion into their lives. They can live their lives under a logical and rational legal framework for alcohol. A couple can enjoy a dinner together with a bottle of wine without being criminalized.
Technology is alleviating the problem; Uber and ride sharing already have made a huge impact. Ultimately, self-driving cars will finish the job. Until that becomes a reality however, America needs to abandon the BAC paradigm and embrace a new paradigm based on driver actions rather than on driver conditions.
I began the prequel to this series with a personal anecdote when I was 20 years old. I’ll end with another anecdote a half-century later. A while back, I got a speeding ticket while driving home from my club late at night. I got ticketed only because I had not consumed any alcohol that night and was driving normally. Had I consumed alcohol, I would have strictly observed the speed limit. There is a moral in there somewhere.
September 17th is the final Montana Moments posting for this summer.