Alcohol

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Canada's Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing a law to lower the national BAC threshold to .05.  Actually, they've been pushing the law for some time.  They just recently found an MP to sponsor it.

Canada went to .08 years before the U.S. did, and proponents of the lower standard cited Canada's law as evidence of America's short-sightedness and failure to get tough on drunken driving.  It worked, with Clinton signing the new standard into law in 2000, blackmailing the states into adopting it or risk millions in federal highway funding.

Of course, DWI deaths inched upward after the last states adopted the new standard, after some 25 years of decline.  Critics predicted that increase, citing studies showing that intoxication levels of .08-.10 don't significantly impair the ability of most people to drive.  The new standard simply tied up police resources at roadblock checkpoints, which became widespread and necessary after the new standard passed—precisely because people between .08 and .10 don't drive erratically enough to be caught by officers patrolling the highways.

So far, MADD's brass in the U.S. has declined to embrace .05.  But I wouldn't be surprised to see them reverse course if the new standard passes in Canada.  Bold, national campaigns make good filler for fundraising letters.  And MADD's had no problem embracing other bad ideas, like mandatory ignition interlock devices, and throwing parents in jail for taking a reality-based approach to underage drinking.

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  1. I’m assuming you meant 0.05 in the first paragraph. I’d imagine you’d blow a 0.005 if you just watched a beer commercial…

    As I understand it, the 0.05 standard is already in effect in many cities and provinces in Canada (at least a couple of the ones I’ve visited). Not that I think it’s a great idea or anything, just that I’m not sure making a national standard is going to change much at this point.

  2. I was thinking .05 what was intended to. I’d hate to do 10 days in jail cuz I had a shot Nyquil. Regardless, this is stupid.

  3. MADD has overstepped its bounds, and original mission statement. As a government funded organization it is finding more and more reasons to exist, to get those funding dollars. The organization was originally founded to try and use public awareness to decrease the number of drunk driving accidents. That goal having been achieved (drunk driving was not eliminated but declining) MADD’s focus has moved to eliminating alcohol at any cost, including driving it underground and out on to the streets (again).

  4. Lowering the national BAC level to .005?

    How will they deterimine this? Microanalysis machines on the side of the road?

  5. With the exchange rate, .05 up north is the equivalent of what — .03 in the States?

  6. All of this is especially rich given how apparently easy it is to get a driver’s license nowadays. The sheer number of perfectly sober dangerous drivers has grown dramatically just in the last decade, based on my own experience. The cops would do more of a public service by ticketing people for tailgating than for driving 11 mph over the limit or with .09 blood-alcohol levels.

  7. F.T.Grampp on MADD: “If it weren’t for the drunks, most of them wouldn’t be mothers.”

    Joseph R. Gusfield studied anti drunk-driving groups as an example of creating and taking ownership of a new “public problem.” It used to be a personal moral failing ; and probably not even particularly dangerous.

    See _The Culture of Public Problems : Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order_

  8. The .08 standard does not make roadblocks necessary; police chose to use them for a variety of (piss-poor) reasons.

    ChrisO-I’m almost with you. But the fact is that depending on the circumstances, 11 mph over is not particularly dangerous. The NHTSA’s own numbers indicate that people who drive between 10 and 15 miles over don’t have a higher accident rate. Speed limits are set to collect revenue, and to give insurance companies a reason to raise rates. They have little, if anything, to do with safety.

    I’m with you on tailgating.

  9. ChrisO-I’m almost with you. But the fact is that depending on the circumstances, 11 mph over is not particularly dangerous. The NHTSA’s own numbers indicate that people who drive between 10 and 15 miles over don’t have a higher accident rate. Speed limits are set to collect revenue, and to give insurance companies a reason to raise rates. They have little, if anything, to do with safety.

    I must have been a little unclear. I totally agree with you. I meant that tailgating is inherently a far more dangerous traffic offense than either moderate speeding or driving just over the legal alcohol limit. I recall reading that most of the folks who get pulled over for drunken driving based on their road behavior are WAY over the legal limit.

  10. It used to be when people were stopped for suspected drunken driving, the answer to how many drinks have you had used to a standard 2. Now that amount will put you into jail, have your car stolen by the police and you will be funding some car insurance company’s executive vacation for many years to come.
    The New York AAA statement when the BAC was reduced to .08 was telling. They were very proud that they helped champion it through the system but in the next paragraph they also stated that the real problem is those with a BAC above .18.
    This just continues to criminalize a larger portion of society.

  11. I think MADD’s dumbest idea so far is Keg Registration, as in numbered kegs, record retention, etc. For the children, don’t you know.

  12. I think MADD’s dumbest idea so far is Keg Registration, as in numbered kegs, record retention, etc. For the children, don’t you know.

    They do this in Oregon. To get a keg you have to buy from the state’s distributorship, and you have to register it, and they’ll often send agents by to make sure that the keg is at the location you said it would be. Fucking fascists.

  13. In actuality, the .05 standard is already used here in Washington State and, I believe, in most other states. Here’s how it works:
    The charge is actually not DWI, “Driving While Intoxicated”. It’s DUI, “Driving Under the Influence”, or ‘impaired driving’. For decades the accepted medical definition of ‘intoxication’ was indeed .1 %. Law enforcement is addressing something more open-ended and vague (oddly enough).

    If you get pulled over while driving and the officer suspects you’ve been drinking they will normally ask you to perform some Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). The stand-on-one-leg, recite-the-alphabet-backwards sorts of things. Also, shining a light in your eyes and watching your eyes track its movement back and forth. Often a driver submits to these tests, thinking, “Hey, if pass these they’ll let me go.” Wrong. THEN the officer will ask to perform a breathalyzer. Depending on the state you may be able to refuse to do either of these; if so, you usually automatically revoke your driving priviliges for a year. (In some states I believe that they can forcibly take you in for a blood draw.)

    Anyway, to continue the scenario: you take the breathalyzer. If you blow over .08, it’s automatic– de facto evidence of DUI. If, however, you blow UNDER .08, are you off the hook? No way. They will usually STILL charge you with DUI. Because you’re ‘under the influence’ of alcohol. The usual standards go down to .05. (In theory, they could go all the way down to .01, but this is usually not attempted.) Law enforcement will then use the subjective results of the FSTs done by the officer to ‘prove’ that you were ‘impaired’. (This is why most DUI defense lawyers will advise you to never, ever consent to a FST, as it can only hurt, not help, your case.)

    Of course, if you pushed it, LE would have to argue your ‘impairment’ in a court of law. In cases below .08 this is a bit iffy, so prosecutors usually are open to plea-bargaining down to, say, Negligent Driving 2 or 3. As the penalties for being convicted of DUI are so draconian in most states there is a very strong incentive for a defendant to accept the plea bargain. Something like this scenario is very common in drinking-while-driving cases.

  14. I lived with some cops for awhile. One of the fun thing was having a breathalyzer around to use after going out to the bars. My only concern in all of this is that the standard is based on science. I didn’t have a problem with .08. I had been around plenty of people around that level and I personally wouldn’t want them behind the wheel. I’m not familiar with the science though. I have a hard time believing though that all those nights I drove home at .04, .05, .06 that I was a danger to other people.

    On top of it, what is really needed is more training for police officers in detecting drugs so people can be properly prosecuted for that. Again, that’s assuming there is science out there that proves what I am assuming right now – that going out and DMXing, doing coke, or getting stoned impairs ones ability to rive. Maybe I’m just buying into the same time of assumption as the crap about Marijuna being a gateway drug. But let’s just set that aside. Assuming that most any drug use in high enough amounts impairs driving, the problem is most officers don’t have proper training to detect it. Short of going on a meth binge, falling asleep at the wheel and running into a shopping center (actually happened), folks get away with it.

  15. a glass and a half of wine and you’re at the limit or real close. That’s hardly impaired.

    What if the law was changed so that if you could get from point A to point B without harming anyone there was no crime?

    No harm. No foul.

    BTW, I don’t drink and drive and have little tolerance for those who do.

  16. An anecdote.

    Some years ago, here in the Province of Quebec, a highly drunk man stole a car and fled at over 80 mph through the main street of a village. He killed one (or perhaps two) kid(s) in the village. Some time after, the Minister of Transportation (Chevrette was his name) held a press conference, and said he was so hurt by the tragedy that “he wanted to do something”. You guessed it: he advocated lowering the DUI limit to 0.05! (I don’t know, though, if it has been made into law.)

  17. ChrisO- You weren’t unclear. I just misread your comment. Looks like we agree.

  18. As a bartender, I am horrified by this idea. People would be scared to leave their homes to drink.

  19. mandatory ignition interlock devices

    .. we have these things in New Mexico, installed on first offense .. I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how this isn’t a violation of the Third Amendment ..

    .. Hobbit

  20. MADD has overstepped its bounds, and original mission statement. As a government funded organization it is finding more and more reasons to exist, to get those funding dollars. The organization was originally founded to try and use public awareness to decrease the number of drunk driving accidents. That goal having been achieved (drunk driving was not eliminated but declining) MADD’s focus has moved to eliminating alcohol at any cost, including driving it underground and out on to the streets (again).
    MADD is straight up fucking dangerous now. Candy Lightner, the founder herself, left the organization and became disgusted with it. At no point do they consider civil liberties the least bit important, because like you said, they always need something new to focus on, and if that includes a .01 BAC, sobriety checkpoints on as many major roads as possible, and police raids on random bars to round up drunks, so be it. The worst part is that they seem to be immune to any real criticism because as long as what they’re doing is for the children, it’s fair game.

  21. …..throwing parents in jail for taking a reality-based approach to underage drinking.

    If it’s my high school kid, the ever-so-progressive parent that throws the reality-based party and serves my kid alcohol without my knowledge or consent will be praying for the cops to take him to jail. When the Blue Meanies finally do show up they’ll find him wearing his ass for a hat, thus making him the perfect jail house bitch.

    Full disclosure: I support lowering the drinking age to at least 18. Under the right circumstances I’d favor abolishing it altogether.

  22. Wine Commonsewer: if that’s how you feel about teen drinking, you must be an extremely depressed parent. Lighten up.

    Anyhow, this is what’s called a private member’s bill. In other words, it’s sponsored by an MP who, even if from the governing party, is not in cabinet. In this country, that means it hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of passing (well, it’s not totally unheard of but it is extremely unusual – very, very unlikely).

  23. You know, TWC, you do threaten to get medieval on people kind of a lot. Maybe you could consider something less likely to get *you* tossed in the can. Something subtle, yet horrible. Get Homeland Security breathing down someone’s neck. Tell your local police department you think they’re producing kiddie porn. Something like that.

  24. Adam, I’m sorry, it’s not about teen drinking, I was hoping that I’d get that across with my disclosure that I favor reducing the drinking age to at least 18 and possibly abolishing it altogether. I think it’s absurd to have a drinking age of 21.

    I am less concerned about teens drinking than I am about progressive adults who furnish alcohol to someone else’s minor child without consent or knowledge. It is both arrogant and presumptuous to assume that you know better what is appropriate for my kid than I as a parent do.

    While I may not agree that it should be illegal for teens to drink, it IS, in fact, illegal and prudence dictates we try and keep our kids out of jail.

    I can see that the Anderson’s (last link) were trying to do the right thing (although they obviously didn’t think things through).

    Most people wouldn’t take your kids to their church, the ball game, or the beach without asking you, the parent ahead of time. Why is it different when its alcohol?

  25. Bee, I honestly only remember a couple of times of getting medieval. Once was in response to a direct attack that was pretty nasty. But, if I’m doing that frequently, I need a pill, and I apologize. However, I actually thought the ass for a hat crack (crack, oh, god, that’s so funny) was kind of amusing. Well, maybe not.

    In my defense, when this subject first came up on H&R a month or two ago, there were many comments that were significantly more rabid than mine tonight. I am referring to the story found at the last link.

    Besides, how bright is that? Letting under age kids drink in your house? That makes a college professor who closes the door to his office with the blond hottie inside look positively brilliant in comparison.

  26. Oh yeah, and Bee & Adam, I detest MADD and was ever so cereal about joining up with DAMM.

  27. “While I may not agree that it should be illegal for teens to drink, it IS, in fact, illegal”

    Not in most jurisdictions in the USA. Check out the statutes. In all but a few instances, they do not prohibit possession or consumption of liquor by minors.

    Even the laws against GIVING liquor to minors in almost all cases do not apply within the minor’s household, nor to religious ceremonies — and they can be any religion they want, including new ones — nor to liquor or other materials dispensed or prescribed by a health care pro. (Rum was still in the USP-NF last I checked.) Plus, minors can acquire liquor legally by making it or by obtaining some which has been discarded.

    In addition, even the few places where sharing of liquor within a household has been legislated against, privacy provisions of the state constitutions probably make those ordinances at least unenforceable, if not directly unconstitutional. Even controlled substances may be possessed legally by any member of a household in which one member is legally in possession of them.

  28. Yep, the original founder of MADD, Candy Lightner, left the origanization in disgust some time ago and refers to it now as a neo-prohibitionist movement.

    The Texas chapter of MADD was in part behind that big stink in Texas earlier this year when the Texas ABC started statewide stings arresting patrons in bars for public intoxication.

    Quoting the Texas ABC Commission:

    “We feel that the only way we’re going to get at the drunk driving problem and the problem of people hurting each other while drunk is by crackdowns like this,” she said.

    “There are a lot of dangerous and stupid things people do when they’re intoxicated, other than get behind the wheel of a car,” Beck said. “People walk out into traffic and get run over, people jump off of balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss.”

    I don’t thing there is any question that the ultimate goal of MADD is .02, which would then essentially impose defacto prohibition. In the meantime they will steadily work their way toward that goal, starting with .05 and then tying that to federal highway funds as was the case for .08

    However, as was the in Texas, where “Operation Last Call” lead to such a public outcry (and the realization that it would destroy out-of-state convention business) that it was terminated, MADD will likely overreach at some point. America is in no mood for defacto alcohol prohibition.

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