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unalienable right to drink and drive?

By enelson
Friday, May 2nd, 2008 at 5:36 pm in driving, Safety, technology.

lohan-ad.bmpI was struggling today to think of something to blog about, but thanks to the American Beverage Institute, I’m golden, like the translucent hue of a fine German lager.

I’m so used to receiving notices of the California Highway Patrol’s latest DUI crackdown, interspersed with the odd release on the governor’s highway safety conference or Mothers Against Drunk Driving effort to curb teen drinking that I found today’s e-mail from ABI quite, shall we say, refreshing.

Reading a header that made reference to something being “good for Lindsay Lohan,” I almost sent it to spam-heaven, but then I realized it was about ignition interlocks:

WASHINGTON – Today the American Beverage Institute (ABI) launched a national radio and print advertising campaign to educate the public about the proper application of ignition interlock devices (IID).

A full-page ad running in USA TODAY explains that while IIDs are a good idea for someone like Lindsay Lohan (pictured in the ad) who has multiple DUI arrests, they shouldn’t be applied to all drivers.

My first concern was for Miss Lohan, who I would imagine is not happy having her face appropriated for advertising of any kind, to say nothing of being designated the poster child for hardcore drunken driving.

Secondly, I wondered how I would handle such a campaign, were it my job to take the position of ensuring Americans’ right to drink and drive.

So I called the institute in Washington, D.C., to tease out a bit more information on its war on interlock systems.

“The goal is to educate,” explained Sarah Longwell, ABI’s managing director. Right now, people think of an interlock system as “clunky breathalyzer equipment,” but really, it’s gone way beyond that.

Nissan, she said, has developed a sniffer to detect alcohol in the vehicle, and (this is fascinating) Toyota has devised sensors that can detect the alcohol seeping from a would-be driver’s skin. If too much is detected, the car wouldn’t start if the interlock is installed and working properly.

So you’re thinking, hooray, we now have a solution to a problem that kills more than 13,000 Americans a year! But wait: Interlock systems are an assault on our very way of life.

Until now, Longwell explained, interlock systems have been reserved for “hardcore” drunken drivers, and her institute fully supports that. But MADD and other entities, like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and automakers “have made no secret” of the fact that they want nothing less than an interlock in every garage.

“It’s kind of like big brother in your car, but also because its unfair to punish people for something that they haven’t done.”

But what about people who have done something?

Let’s go back to the ABI’s press release:

While the ABI aggressively supports the use of interlocks as punishment for high-BAC (.15% and above) drunk drivers and repeat offenders, it opposes mandating the technology for low-BAC (between .08% and .15%), first-time offenders.

Such a move, would be a step on the road to putting it in all cars, according to the institute, and that could lead to this ghastly scenario, described in the USA Today ad:

Ignition interlocks, or in-car breathalyzers, are a great tool for getting hard-core drunk drivers off our roads. However, activists now want to put one in every car in America. That means the end of moderate and responsible drinking prior to driving … No more champagne toasts at weddings, no more wine with dinner, no more beers at a ballgame.

Let’s stop drunk driving without eliminating our traditions.

That’s accompanied by three photos, one of three men dressed for the office sitting at a table with tall beer glasses, another with two women drinking something pink out of martini glasses flanked by two men with beer glasses.

And there’s a third photo of a bride and groom kissing under a blue sky with as their two champagne flutes snuggle.

I couldn’t help thinking of the tipsy young bride snapping, “I can’t believe you forgot to call the limo service!”

The institute, I should point out, does not represent booze makers or even breweries. They represent places that serve the stuff, namely restaurants, according to Longwell.

“We want people to be able to drink moderately and responsibly before driving,” she told me, adding that what MADD, the feds and carmakers are gunning for was a “de-facto zero tolerance standard.”

“It will vastly change the way that we as a culture are able to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner,” she said.
“It will change things drastically if people aren’t able to drink moderately and responsibly.”

That will be especially magnified if California and other states adopt what are known as low BAC first-offender mandates, which Longwell recently showed in Sacramento to testify against. They would allow interlocks and other measures on anyone who gets nabbed for DUI.

But I’m thinking about the steering wheel sensors and wondering out loud, “what about designated drivers?” I mean, can’t they be counted upon to uphold our great tradition of drinking and still get us home safely?

A very clever advocate, she countered with a jab at cell phones.

“We would encourage everybody to have designated drivers if they’re going to be drinking above the legal limit,” she said, leaping directly to “You are more impaired talking on a hands-free cell phone than you are driving at .08 BAC.”

I think it’s good that we as a society encourage people to use mind-altering substances responsibly. On the other hand, when it comes to guns, motor vehicles and other deadly weapons, I just don’t get how you argue against erring on the side of sobriety.


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4 Responses to “unalienable right to drink and drive?”

  1. david vartanoff Says:

    there is NO inalienable right to drive drunk or sober, but our culture assumes that anyone who doesn’t drive is less than a full citizen. MADD sparked some change, but we still have way too much DUI.

  2. Reedman Says:

    Many years ago, I had a job interview in Austin, Texas. At the time, it was legal there to drink and drive, but it was illegal to drive drunk. At every freeway exit ramp, there was a pile of empty beer cans, where people threw them out of their cars/pickups before re-entering the freeway. If you got pulled-over, it was a whole lot more suspicious if you had nine empties rattling around on the floor than if you didn’t …

  3. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Here’s a thought: Help save lives and the environment. Put ignition interlocks on cars for alcohol, cell phones, wet shredded lettuce and high-fructose corn syrup. This would make driving more of a pain, you say? Exactly.

  4. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    The alcohol industry is worried that people might – gasp! – drink less if they have to drive!

    Obviously the answer isn’t to encourage drinking and driving, as they are here. Instead the alcohol industry needs to realize that mass transit is its best ally. One of the reasons I began using it when I lived in Seattle was to get from the bar back to my house at 2 AM without risking my life and everyone else’s by getting behind the wheel.

    Here in Monterey the local transit agency runs an hourly bus from downtown to the wine tasting rooms in Carmel Valley. It’s a fantastic way to sample the local wines, and when you’re pretty well sauced by the end of the day, the bus driver is your DD. It’s brilliant.

    And the Carmel Valley wineries provide around 40% of the funding for that bus. Clearly theirs is a model the alcohol industry should adopt more widely.

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