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January 13, 2003

Why MADD is not Crazy

TalkLeft and ElectorLite both recently harangued Mothers Against Drunk Driving for being out of control. While I haven't explored every turn of their anti-alcohol campaign, TalkLeft's particular example of perceived lunacy seems misplaced.

Apparently, the premiere of British Columbia was stopped and charged with drunk driving. MADD has called on him to resign because of this crime.

Now, this imight seem a kind of extreme position, but considering that the man took the single action, short of directly aiming a gun, most likely to kill another person, it seems a more reasonable complaint than say, wanting a President impeached for adultery.

I think the war on drugs is idiotic and I don't want it extended to alcohol, but if a conviction for USE of drugs in one's home would surely kill any politician's career, risking the lives of others while driving drunk publicly sure as hell should at least raise the issue of competency and compassion for others.

16,642 deaths from drunk driving in the USA in 2001. Four times as many deaths as from the World Trade Center attack. If impeaching a few politicians might help lower those drunk driving death numbers, that seems a much finer way to save lives than some of the ideas accepted as rational in the wake of 911.

There is obviously no absolute security from any danger and the most extreme solutions are counterproductive to liberty and sanity, as our current war on terror reflects and outright bans on drugs or alchohol have historically shown. (See my Myth of Absolute Security.)

But making a public example of a politician who drove drunk seems like the most basic sane publicity action by a group like MADD, not some extreme act for which they should be ridiculed.

Update: Them Durn Liberals weighs in on the issue, arguing that no politician should be pressured to resign- "That should be up to the voters to decide." Seems a bit rhetorical since MADD has no ability to force anyone out of office, so it's always up to the voters. This whole campaign is a publicity attack to highlight the problem.

Durn Liberals sees this as all tied to the war on drugs. But that misses the point-- the problem with the war on drugs is that people are not punished for antisocial use of drugs-- they are punished for mere possession without regard to responsible conduct. One absurdity of the war on drugs is precisely the fact that 16,000 people die each year due to alcohol-related deaths, while no comparable numbers exist for behavior associated with other drugs. The goal should be legalization of drugs for those willing to use them responsibly and not in an anti-social way, while punishing those who threaten other peoples lives through negligent behavior. And drunk (or stoned) driving sure comes under the latter category.

Posted by Nathan at January 13, 2003 04:29 PM

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Comments

You make a good argument. Regarding the BC Premier being pulled over in Hawaii, I'd like some more specific information. What's the blood-alcohol limit in BC? In Hawaii? How far was he over it? Calling for his resignation could be sensible or not, depending on the answers to these questions. I agree that there's a lot to be said for making an example of politicians who flout the laws the rest of us try to obey, but I'd like to know if this was actually a case of that.

One of the commenters on TalkLeft has asserted that "the B.C. and Canadian national chapters of MADD are using the Premier's Hawaiian misadventure to try and shoot down the entirely sensible relaxation of B.C.'s arcane and risible liquor laws." If this is true, that's an interesting angle. God knows many Canadian provinces have utterly bizarre liquor laws.

At any rate, my concern with MADD isn't about stuff like this; it's about the way they seem to have joined the no-restriction-too-great brigade, the social forces that brought us the eternal drug war. No, I don't think anyone should drive drunk. But it seems to me that endlessly lowering the blood-alcohol line and endlessly raising the penalties does just what our draconian drug laws do: it puts the law in disrepute and makes it harder than ever to get people to be sensible.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at January 13, 2003 05:56 PM

No doubt MADD supports policies that would go farther than I'd approve, but see my comments added on the war on drugs versus drunk driving laws. Anyone has perfect safety from the law in using alchohol-- don't drive. You can max out your blood alcohol level and have no fear as long as you don't get behind a two-ton guided missile and go out on the road.

The social costs of the drug war are clear and its benefits pretty shaky. I just don't see those costs yet with the restrictions on drunk driving and the social gains are high.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at January 14, 2003 07:55 AM

"the fact that 16,000 people die each year due to alcohol-related deaths, while no comparable numbers exist for behavior associated with other drugs." It might be claimed that the thousands of gang-related shootings and other violent crime associated with drug trafficking are comparable. It seems obvious, however, that drug Prohibition has been instrumental in financing gangs, just as alchohol Prohibition did the first time around. This fact was acknowledged, even by anti-alchohol groups, when alchohol Prohibition was repealed. Drug Prohibition resulted in a lucrative black market; it gave the Cosa Nostra a much-needed shot in the arm after it lost the lucrative illegal booze trade, and changed youth gangs from turf warriors to drug-funded crime syndicates. The only notable success of the so-called War on Drugs is to have made marijuana more expensive (cocaine and heroin apparently being cheaper now then they were 20 years ago), making violence in marijuana-dealing, once almost unknown, much more commonplace (as in the 2001 massacre over the Carnegie Deli).

Posted by: Robuzo at January 14, 2003 11:04 AM

The 16,642 figure is (deliberately?) misleading. it certainly does not mean that many deaths were caused by drunk driving. Not nearly. "alcohol-related" means that anyone involved even peripherally with the accident (such as a witness to the accident or a pedestrian, or a passenger in the car not at fault) had or was presumed to have some alcohol (not necessarily over the limit) in them.

The actual number caused by alcohol might be 1% of that total. Who knows?

Posted by: DavidByron at January 14, 2003 10:42 PM

http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/ncsa/rpts/2002/00alcoholrpt/Alc00Chap2.htm#_VPID_8

This is MADD's source.
Here's a quote:

"In 2000, 41,821 persons were killed as a result of traffic crashes. Of those fatalities, 31 percent (12,892) occurred in crashes in which a driver or nonoccupant was intoxicated. An additional 9 percent (3,761) involved a driver or nonoccupant who had been drinking but whose BAC was below 0.10. Overall, 40 percent (16,653) of all traffic fatalities involved a driver or nonoccupant with a BAC of 0.01 or above."

Also note (from page 1 of the report) that these are based on guesses as to the state of alcohol in the crashes. For example if a crash involves a male on a Saturday night it's likely to be considered alcohol related.
=============================================

I am a teetotaler but I think drunk driving laws are ridiculously restrictive and are set up to make people break them.

Posted by: DavidByron at January 14, 2003 11:06 PM

Congress established a national Dwi standard of .08% Blood Alcohol Content. Setting aside the fact that this is the Congress that proclaimed the states should control their own affairs; this effort is 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

If the real concern is "drunk driving" the legal BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) standard should be raised to .12% thereby allowing police agencies and the courts to concentrate on dangerous drivers. Anyone with a modest understanding of the issue, and who is honest, knows that drivers with low BAC'S such as .08% are no more likley to be involved in an accident than someone with a BAC of 0.0%. So, the obvious question has to be , why are we persecuting people who aren't a danger to others, or even themselves? Just to keep MADD in bussiness, or to appease the neo-prohibitionist movement?

The current deluge of pro-.08 propoganda is without legitimate factual foundation. Caims that persons with BAC'S of .08% are eleven times more likley to be involved in a fatal traffic accident are based on a 30-year-old study that has "kindly" been described as a "fraud" by experts in the field. But,this shouldn't even be debatable, the actual recorded numbers indicate that this is pure nonsense! Still, the press prints it and elected officials respond.

Raising the legal BAC limit to .12% would be a good first step toward taking a honest approach to reducing true drunk driving. The current trend of ever lower BAC standards is a political, cultural, and ethical disgrace, as are many other elements of the neo-prohibitionist movement. A .08% BAC law is the equivalent of a 25-mph speed limit on the Interstate system. It is totally arbitrary, wastful, and yet one more disgracful attack on the legitimacy of "rule by law". Good laws have a factual foundation and they are supported by an honest consesus. A BAC standard of .08% meets neither of these standards.

Posted by: Rich Fleishner at January 18, 2003 02:46 AM

In my younger years I rode with a friend in a car when he had been drinking. As soon as he stopped I got out and wouldn't ride with him again.I don't know what his alchohol blood level read, but I do know that as one more drink is taken the driving danger increases.
I also have had two friends in different accidents who were killed by head on crashes, and the other drivers had been drinking. If penalties were enfored for those who drink and drive or commit other crimes while under the influence, it may deter the drinking habit.

Posted by: Gordon Bartholomew at July 14, 2003 11:04 AM

In my younger years I rode with a friend in a car when he had been drinking. As soon as he stopped I got out and wouldn't ride with him again.I don't know what his alchohol blood level read, but I do know that as one more drink is taken the driving danger increases.
I also have had two friends in different accidents who were killed by head on crashes, and the other drivers had been drinking. If penalties were enfored for those who drink and drive or commit other crimes while under the influence, it may deter the drinking habit.

Posted by: Gordon Bartholomew at July 14, 2003 11:04 AM

The author makes the same knee-jerk assumption that MADD and the NHTSA have conditioned us into believing: 16,642 deaths at the hands of drunk drivers. The governmnet figures do not say that, and they admit it if you delve deep enough into their statistics. Visit the getMADD webpage for a better understanding of government math.
getMADD

Posted by: getmadd.com at October 20, 2003 10:12 PM

Yes go to the propaganda source for the unbiased information [rolleyes]

MADD started off with good intentions, but has since become a corporate giant that receives heavy funding from insurance companies to keep pushing lower legal limits,
so they can profit off the one or two drinker demographic.

It's all BS, if you don't believe me look into it from different sources and make your own opinion.

Posted by: Cutter at February 5, 2006 12:11 PM

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