September 24, 2010
Anti-drinking activists drunk with power
When I was awakened early this morning, I made the mistake of turning on the TV in the hope of being bored into drowsiness so I could go back to sleep. I turned on C-SPAN, thinking that boring speeches would do the trick.
Big mistake. Instead of boring speeches, I was greeted by passionate, in-your-face activists from M.A.D.D. The hard core of that organization consists mostly of people who have lost a family member because of an accident with a drunk driver, and who have clearly sublimated the normal grief which accompanies the death of a loved one into political activism. They think that their loved ones died because of lax laws, and they press for endlessly tougher laws, which they claim will stop drunk driving.
M.A.D.D. activists are now pushing to make drunk driving a felony, and to lower the blood alcohol level standard for DUI from .08 (already lowered from .10 thanks to MADD activists) down to .04.
.04 is the BAC you'd get from a glass of wine.
It doesn't take much imagination to see that this would create a gigantic new group of felons.
Now, I do not defend drunk driving. But the direction in which this hysteria is going -- making driving after a glass of wine with dinner a felony -- is simply an outrage. This isn't a crackdown on drunk driving; it is neo-prohibitionism.
The M.A.D.D. speakers were also calling for a return to the 55 mph speed limit, because drunk drivers are said to be much more dangerous at high speeds. Saying that because drunk drivers are more dangerous at higher speeds no one should be allowed to drive at high speeds makes about as much sense as saying that because drunk drivers are dangerous in cars, no one should be allowed to own a car. In typical nanny state fashion, this would punish the many for the crimes of the few, and another example of the national kindergarten mentality I have complained about till I'm blue in the fingertips. Also, this argument makes the ridiculous assumption that drunk drivers (who are already violating the law by drinking and driving) will somehow be law-abiding and not exceed the speed limit. (Right. Like criminals planning armed robbery or murder will nonetheless be deterred by gun control laws.)
Aghast, and now finding myself far too awake for that hour, I continued to watch M.A.D.D. on C-SPAN and I heard the repeated claim that "drunk driving is a violent crime." Is it? Certainly, it is irresponsible as well as negligent to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink, but aren't a lot of people saying it is also irresponsible and negligent to drive while talking on the phone? Or while putting on makeup and disciplining the kids? How about getting behind the wheel when it is clear from your conduct that you don't know how to drive? (Something I see all the time in this student town, btw.) How about mentally-impaired people driving? Or people who are completely lacking in basic motor skills, and who lack spatial awareness?
Impaired driving is never a good thing, but my worry is that once we start calling irresponsibility and negligence "violent crime," the term will lose its meaning. If I dig a hole in my yard to repair the sewer pipe and negligently forget to cover it, sure, someone could fall in and get hurt, but have I committed a crime of "violence"? If (as M.A.D.D. activists insist) getting behind the wheel after a glass of wine constitutes a crime of violence, then almost any form of negligence could be.
The stuff I saw last night made it clear to me that regardless of its original mission, M.A.D.D. has now become a theater of the absurd. It is yet another example of what happens when activists get together:
...single-issue activists often associate with -- and tend to exclusively surround themselves with -- other like-minded, single-issue activists. The result is what many call an echo chamber -- or "the choir." But I think "echo chamber" and "choir" are less than accurate terms, because the implication is that people are simply getting together and agreeing with each other in groups. When group dynamics are factored into single issue fanaticism, a lot more happens than mere group agreement. Because people are naturally competitive, many activists want to prove to the group that they are not only devoted to the cause, but more devoted than the others. This leads to extreme hyperbole, and the taking of positions which normal people would consider laughable.However, it would be a mistake to laugh these people off.
M.A.D.D.'s political clout is so enormous that just last year, they almost got their own leader to head the NHTSA (which would have made him the "highway czar"):
Charles "Chuck" Hurley is the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). He's also a totalitarian nanny-stater who wants arbitrary check lanes and a 55 mph national speed limit. Hurley also hearts a .04% Blood Alcohol Content limit, which would make you DUI after one drink. Oh, and he has ties to the red light camera industry.The Washington Times editorialized against him, and other voices sounded the alarm. At the time Eric Peters warned that "when Big Things are going on, little things often slip by unnoticed."
Why be worried? For openers, Hurley is a former leader of Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- arguably the most unreasonable and totalitarian-minded "special interest" in all of D.C. Its original mission -- a public campaign to make driving drunk unacceptable -- has metastasized into a crusade against any consumption of alcohol whatsoever. The legal standard for "drunk" driving has already been lowered to .08 BAC -- a level well below the .10 and up at which people have actual accidents as opposed to running afoul of "sobriety checkpoints."Putting him in charge of the NHTSA would have been like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. What would have stopped him from slanting official statistics to favor M.A.D.D.'s activist agenda? As things stand now, NHTSA and M.A.D.D. engage in statistical flim-flammery to deceive the public. "Alcohol-related fatalities" is one example:
For some time, the NMA has taken on the lonely role of objecting to certain elements of MADD, SADD, BADD, DADD, RADD, etc. campaigns against drunk driving. (For the 300th time, we are not in favor of drunk driving.) Admittedly, our stands have been pretty radical, e.g., police should have probable cause to stop and test motorists, BAC standards should be reasonable, and that people charged with DWI should have access to a fair trial.These statistics seem almost designed to conceal whether or not the alcohol was actually responsible for the accident, because often the police test everyone involved in an accident. And even though it is quite conceivable that a driver with a BAC of .08 was not at fault in any way (say his car was broadsided by a driver who ran a stop sign), the accident will still be considered "alcohol related." And if they lower the DUI BAC to .04, there is going to be a huge uptick in alcohol related accidents.
Geez. You'd almost think these people wanted more "alcohol-related" fatalities.
Isn't that almost like a conflict of interest?
Last year Reason's Radley Balko warned that the Hurley appointment would politicize the NHTSA by putting activists in charge:
With Hurley in charge, MADD's goals will become NHTSA's goals. That's troubling because at heart, MADD is an activist organization. The groups once-admirable goal of raising public awareness about drunk driving has over the last several years morphed into a zealous, evangelical teetotaling campaign. When a coalition of college presidents recently asked for nothing more than a new debate over the federal drinking age last year, for example, MADD called on parents to boycott the presidents' schools. MADD has supported prison sentences for parents who allow alcohol consumption at chaperoned parties for underage teens, and fought efforts to allow underage veterans to have a beer on base after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even MADD's founder, Candace Lightner, has renounced the group, calling them "neo-prohibitionists."Fortunately, the nomination was killed -- but for the wrong reasons.
M.A.D.D. is out of control, and they have way too much power. And if they are in fact making money on every DUI arrest as is claimed, then no wonder they want the BAC lowered.
The more "drunk drivers" there are, the more M.A.D.D money there is!
UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and for quoting from this post. Glenn is absolutely right to call M.A.D.D. "another example of a non-profit gone wrong," which "should disband, now that their work is basically done." Instead of disbanding, though, they're being subsidized by the taxpayers. (Like this anti-M.A.D.D. site, I thought that was supposed to be illegal....)
(Incomplete link fixed.)
posted by Eric on 09.24.10 at 05:27 PM
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