It’s the hypocrisy that bothers me first. Lawmakers at the National Transportation Safety Board have recommended that states lower the legal blood-alcohol concentration for drivers from .08 percent to .05 percent. For a normal-sized person, that’s going to be little more than a glass of wine with dinner. For a guy like me, that means I’ll only be able to have one bottle of whiskey. In a country that claims it can’t be bothered to run a simple background check before allowing people to legally purchase military grade weapons over the internet, we’re thinking of criminalizing having some wine with dinner and then driving home.

I suppose you could have all the alcohol you want if you drive home in a freaking tank, because as long as there is a gun involved, the government isn’t allowed to do squat.

But even if we ignore the hypocrisy and move past the obvious enforceability problems of turning nearly everybody on the road after 1:00 a.m. into a criminal, there’s still another huge problem with this NTSB recommendation. It’s a “national” standard for what absolutely is a state-by-state concern.

That’s right, I said it, I object to this recommendation on federalism grounds….

The NTSB has numbers on its side. From the New York Times:

People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent are 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking, according to government statistics. People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent are 169 percent more likely.

The standard in most of the industrialized world is 0.05 percent. All 50 states and the District of Columbia switched to 0.08 percent after President Bill Clinton signed a law in 2000 that withheld highway construction money from states that did not agree to that standard.

On the other side is common sense. I have a friend who is from Bumf**k, Maine. I’ve been up there. There are no cabs. The moose do not take debit cards. Now I know a Mainer gets drunk just the same as I, but it is utterly ridiculous to have the same BAC standard in a place where there is one bar every 10 miles, as there is in a place where there are 10 immigrants willing to drive you home every block. In Manhattan, you shouldn’t be allowed to have Robitussin and then drive. In Maine, if you are sober enough to make it all the way back home without needing to pull over to pee (that’s not an insignificant standard), then you’re probably good.

At the very least, MAINERS should be making that determination for themselves, not the federal government.

Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving aren’t really behind this standard:

The discussion of changing the definition of drunk, [said D.C. representative J. T. Griffin], was the safety board’s “trying to focus on a group of people who are more social drinkers, who haven’t been targeted in a while.” MADD would not oppose the change, he said, but would pursue other remedies.

You know who likes to go out and have a glass of wine or two and then drive home? MILFS Moms.

Note how I’m not doing the Republican thing of disputing the validity of the numbers because I don’t like math I can’t manipulate? Supporters of the standard note that most countries in Europe, and Russia and Australia have all lowered their standard to .05 percent and they’ve all seen a drop in automotive deaths. I don’t disagree with the science. Enforcement problems or not, adopting the NTSB standard would save lives, innocent lives.

But so what? Keeping people alive isn’t the only responsibility of the government, of law enforcement, or of criminal justice. From time to time we allow things that will increase the likelihood of people dying. We allow these things because making everybody a criminal is worse that some people dying from preventable social outcomes. Remember, we tried banning alcohol altogether. It didn’t take.

We could save lives by turning casual drinkers into criminals. Or we could save lives by building safer cars, safer roads, and better systems of public transportation. Or we could do neither accept that some teenagers will die every prom night.

But hey, we could also legalize pot and treat bullets like a controlled substance. I know, I know, we won’t. Like I said, the government isn’t actually in the business of keeping people alive. It’s in the business of deciding which lobbying groups are powerful enough to be allowed to kill us for their own profit. On that scale, the American Beverage Institute has a lot to learn from the NRA.

States Urged to Cut Limit on Alcohol for Drivers [New York Times]


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