“The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Congress was stampeded into this puritanical law by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” — Camille Paglia in Time on why the national minimum drinking age law “must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust.” Related: “A drinking age of 21 infantilizes adults who are otherwise able to serve in the military, marry without permission, enter into business contracts, buy tobacco, vote and run for public office. It forces college administrators to be babysitters rather than educators. And it doesn’t achieve its stated goals.” ["ABC debacle should stir debate on Virginia’s drinking age," Rick Sincere, Richmond Times-Dispatch] Earlier here, here, here, etc. Plus: Relevant political thoughts from Glenn Reynolds last year.
Related, if distantly: study in Britain finds liberalization of bar closing hours associated with decline in traffic accidents [Jeffrey Miron, Cato]
Austin’s police chief wants to criminalize driving on 0.05 blood alcohol — which for many people means a beer or two — and state senator John Whitmire of Houston is sympathetic: “Some people shouldn’t be driving after one drink.” A MADD spokesman applauds, too. [Austin American-Statesman]
[See important P.S./correction at end] No, this isn’t new, it’s a year old in fact, but I must have somehow overlooked Radley Balko’s account of it: Jeff Brown of Columbus, Ohio, was arrested and convicted for operating a vehicle under the influence after walking a bicycle across his own front lawn*, then refusing a breathalyzer test from a cop who said the bicycle was missing a required headlight and that Brown seemed impaired. Things could be worse, though: a Florida woman won dismissal of 2005 charges of operating her own wheelchair while intoxicated.
*Important P.S.: I should have caught this earlier (via Balko’s “Hit and Run” followup, h/t reader Nicolas Martin in comments) but the appellate court accepted a version of the facts that differs from Brown’s on key points [emphasis added]:
The record contains scant details of the underlying facts of this case, but it appears appellant was riding a bicycle on a sidewalk on December 18, 2004, when he was detained by a police officer.
Absent some indication that the appeals court erred, Brown’s doesn’t look like the case to cite in illustrating the farthest reaches of impaired-bicycle legislation.
Chuck Hurley withdrew not because of the many liberty-hostile positions taken by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but because of one of the issues on which he was right, namely, recognizing that there’s a tradeoff between fuel-economy-regulation-driven downsizing of vehicles and occupant safety, an inconvenient truth some environmental and consumer groups would rather not acknowledge. [National Journal, Fleet Owner, AP/Tacoma News Tribune]
Washington state jails are overcrowded, so—presumably to avoid lawsuits over overcrowding—Washington State Patrol policy is to arrest nonviolent offenders without jailing them. In the case of Bellingham resident Janine Parker, drunk driving in the early morning hours of January 4, Trooper Chad Bosman arrested her, and drove her home, telling her not to drive until she was sober. Nevertheless, Parker, an hour later, found a taxi to take her nine miles to her car left by the side of the road, and drove drunk head on into Hailey French’s auto, causing the innocent 22-year-old driver many injuries.
French sued Parker, of course, but also the Washington State Patrol and Whatcom County (the latter apparently failed to put an ignition-interlock device in her car as Parker’s probation from an earlier conviction provided). (Miraculously, she doesn’t seem to have sued the taxi company.) A Skagit County jury found the two governmental entities jointly liable for $5.5 million. According to press accounts, the two defense attorneys each tried to get the jury to blame the other deep pocket: apparently, making the suggestion the person responsible for the drunk driving was the person responsible was beyond either hope or comprehension, though a web commenter to the article claims that Parker testified that the accident was entirely her fault. (Peter Jensen, “Whatcom County woman’s suit against county, State Patrol in jury’s hands”, Bellingham Herald, Apr. 24; May 1 post-trial press release of victorious plaintiff’s attorney).
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is anything but an uncontroversial organization, as the Washington Times, Radley Balko, and our own archives make clear. Among the bad, sometimes awful ideas with which it has been identified are a reduction of the blood alcohol limit to .04 (meaning that for some adults a single drink could result in arrest), blanket police roadblocks and pullovers, the 55 mph speed limit, traffic-cams, and the imprisonment of parents who knowingly permit teen party drinking, to name but a few. Of particular interest when it comes to the policies of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it has backed proposed legislation demanding that costly breathalyzer-ignition interlock systems be foisted on all new cars, whether or not their drivers have ever committed a DUI offense; it’s also lined up with the plaintiff’s bar on various dubious efforts to expand liability.
Now President Obama has named MADD CEO Chuck Hurley to head NHTSA. Drivers, car buyers, and the American public had better brace themselves for a season of neo-Prohibitionist rhetoric, nannyist initiatives, and efforts to criminalize now-lawful conduct. It won’t be pretty.
More: Coyote Blog (“What, was Ralph Nader busy?”)
Janiece Lacross, a drunk-driving defense lawyer in Washington state, has lately run into her own trouble with the law: “Last November she drove drunk with her three young children in the backseat. She hit a boy on his bike in Kitsap County, breaking his leg and sending him into the bushes. But the vehicular assault charge against her was dropped and reduced to just a DUI, which brought Mothers Against Drunk Driving to court to find out why.” Lacross entered rehab and will accept home monitoring and attend victim impact events as part of her plea in Tacoma to DUI and three counts of reckless endangerment; her repentant statements in court even made a relatively favorable impression on MADD, not the easiest thing to do. The passing bit of the story that induced a momentary double take: as part of her penitence, it is said that Lacross “even helped the young victim, Joseph Griffith, with his civil suit for personal injuries”. Against herself? (Keith Eldridge, KOMO, Oct. 1).
The group radiates an intransigent, “there is no permissible debate” attitude on its subject, and “there is no politician who has the audacity” to call its bluff (“Let’s chuck the drinking age”, Denver Post, Aug. 21)(via Protein Wisdom). Earlier on the so-called Amethyst Initiative (to reconsider the 21 year old age limit) here, with many reader comments.
More: Steve Chapman, with whom it is rare for us to disagree, takes the opposite view (syndicated/Washington Times, Aug. 24).
A good idea. And from college presidents! (Baltimore Sun, Seattle P-I blog). MADD, of course, is having a fit. (Philadelphia Inquirer). More (via comments): Adler @ Volokh & further.
Seems it’s not considered tortious when it’s done for a good cause by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the local constabulary to a captive audience of public school students. (Balko, Reason “Hit and Run”; Pat Sherman, “El Camino teens face heavy emotions brought about by drunken-driving dramatization”, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 30). P.S. Scott Greenfield apparently has been thinking along similar lines.
Jacob Sullum (of the often excellent Reason Magazine) makes note of a prosecutor in Arizona who places DUI offenders’ names, mug shots and BAC levels online. Sullum concludes that the prosecutor is “imposing extrajudicial punishment, based on his unilateral conclusion that the penalties prescribed by law for DUI offenses provide an inadequate deterrent.”
Publicizing records that are, by nature, public is normally fine by me. But the prosecutor seems to have created, in a sense, a DUI offender registry. Appearance on sex offender registries is a matter determined by law, not the whim of prosecutors. Also, Mothers Against Drunk Driving won’t endorse the idea:
“Some parts of the Web site are good because they are informational and trying to provide the victim’s perspective,” said Misty Moyse, the spokeswoman for the group. However, she said, “M.A.D.D. would not want to be involved in calling out offenders. We are interested in research- and science-based activities proven to stop drunk driving.”
(crossposted at catallaxy.net)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which is fairly described these days as neo-Prohibitionist, continues to promote the development of automobiles which will be mechanically inoperable in the presence of indicators of drunkenness. A new Nissan prototype includes alcohol sensors in both the driver and passenger seat. Passenger? (Classical Values, Aug. 4). Earlier: Aug. 19, 2005, May 28, 2006.
More from DUI Blog: “Imagine if even one of these gizmos malfunctions — at high speed.”