Starting next month, $525,000 of our federal tax dollars will go to work paying for the Raleigh police to have a squad of four officers in specially equipped vehicles for the sole purpose of detecting and arresting drivers suspected of DWI. Raleigh police expect the grant will increase the departments annual total of 1,500 DWI arrests by 50 percent or more.
One rationale police cited for the tougher enforcement is that 30 percent of fatal crashes in Raleigh involved alcohol.
The expressions drunken driving and involved alcohol are commonly used by advocates of lowering the legal blood alcohol count or more strictly enforcing existing limits. I would argue their purpose is to deceive.
Drunken is a coinage made common when DWI laws were refashioned to impose criminal consequences on drivers who had blood alcohol levels over an arbitrary limit in addition to demonstrably impaired drivers. You could no longer call it drunk driving as many people can have a level above the limit and not be impaired.
Hearing that a traffic fatality involved alcohol, most assume that the victim died in an accident caused by an impaired driver. Its not necessarily so. The federal government defines a fatal traffic accident as alcohol-related if a person involved had some measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system.
Say someone has a beer before dinner, goes for a walk and then is struck and killed by a car whose driver has consumed no alcohol but was blinded by the sun. If the EMT detects alcohol on the body, it will go into the books as an alcohol-related death and be among the 30 percent.
The National Motorists Association estimates that 10 percent of traffic fatalities are caused by impaired drivers. If so, tougher laws and stricter enforcement are unlikely to significantly reduce the number of traffic deaths.
Making our roads safer by limiting impaired drivers is a commendable enough goal on its own. Why mislead the public?
One reason may be to justify what are truly Draconian consequences for drivers who have had one too many. Drivers can find themselves thrown into the maw of the criminal justice system if stopped for a broken tail light even when they have exhibited no evidence of impairment. Criminal consequences include mandatory license suspensions, fines, jail time and the seizure of ones motor vehicle.
Even drivers guilty of only a technical breach of the law by having a blood alcohol level above 0.08 without being impaired will face significant surcharges from insurers. If I were charged with a DWI offense, my insurance premiums would carry a surcharge of $1,200 a year for three years. Ouch.
By comparison, a driver found guilty of texting and driving might have been a far greater menace to our roads yet faces only a fine of $100 and cannot be assessed points or insurance surcharges.
Another explanation for the deception is that the anti-drinking-and-driving industry, which is supported by tax-funded bureaucracies, has a vested interest in making the problem appear worse than it is to justify its existence. Private organizations gather millions in donations to keep the war on drinkers in the public eye and have every interest in making the problem appear as serious as possible.
In addition, governments, courts and the insurance industry recognize a cash cow when they see one, and they have grown addicted to the fines, assessments, surcharges and confiscations that follow violations of DWI laws.
We Americans have never been as accepting as Europeans in our attitudes toward alcohol. Many of us think that if you kiss the demon rum, you are fully deserving of all consequences enumerated above, no matter how disproportionate.
The vast majority of adults in the United States consume alcohol, and many of them drive after doing so. Bars, restaurants, professional sports venues and country clubs all have parking lots.
The goal of making our roads safer is an important one. It should be possible to address the true drunk-driving problem without tax-supported propaganda and the harassment of a segment of the population that is not causing the problem.
Contributing columnist Marc Landry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.