discomfort (2006-23)

Soggy Excuses

Whoever invented DUI laws must’ve been wearing beer goggles

by Steve Dupree

I really don’t like the DUI laws. Seriously. I have trouble thinking of a more misguided piece of legislation. Oh, I know and understand the theory and supposed intent, but it doesn’t stand up to logical analysis. Yeah, I know, you think I’ve lost my liberal mind. I’ll try to clear this up.

A few years ago, a buddy of mine encountered an apparently incompetent automobile operator. As he was riding a motorcycle and the other vehicle was a car, the resultant collision caused serious damage to both my buddy and his Harley. Now let’s see a show of hands. How many of you out there think that my buddy and his family were relieved that the young lady operating the car (incompetently) was not intoxicated?

I could write a hundred such stories out of my own history or the histories of my friends. I recall not one instance of anyone expressing relief at the lack of involvement of alcohol or drugs in any accidents we may have had.  I suppose that we should be better citizens. I suppose that we should not let a little thing like broken bones or blood or internal injuries stop us from being aware and concerned about the things that we are told are important. (But we do.)

The safe operation of the vehicle is the primary responsibility the operator must be concerned with. That can be a difficult standard to live up to, but not thinking about it doesn’t make it easier. So in the long run, I really do not care if the person who pulls out in front of my motorcycle or bicycle is drunk, or if they have children screaming in the back seat. I care not one whit whether they just shared a joint or an argument with their mate. Whether they were high with newfound love or despondent from recent heartbreak means nothing to me. Dropped cigarettes, spilled coffee or coke, food, cell phones, physical condition, or mechanical failure due to infrequent maintenance all have been the cited as causes for accidents. If the innocent but injured party is like me at all, they simply do not care that alcohol was not involved.

I think that the solution is to enforce the laws that existed well prior to the DUI laws. If someone is driving recklessly, arrest him or her and charge the individual with...that’s right, reckless driving. If they have done damage to private or public property, charge them with destruction of public or private property. If they hurt someone, charge them with vehicular assault. And if they kill someone, charge them with vehicular homicide. If they aren’t driving recklessly or damaging property or hurting anyone, logic and reason say that the most they should be charged with is public intoxication. Damn, this all seems simple. 

Come on folks, think about it. If the threat of being in a prison cell for the next 20 to 30 years with a big guy who is tougher than you and thinks you have a cute ass isn’t a deterrent, is 48 hours and four or five thousand dollars going to do it? Most of us think of criminals as folks like we see in the movies who kill people and have really bad grammar. We rarely see the things that we do as criminal, even when we are breaking the law. This mental disconnect results in the socially negative behavior wherein we needlessly endanger others. Rather than giving folks an out, the excuse of “Well, I was drunk,” we can help them understand that it is possible to be a criminal and still have all your teeth. Even if you are a really cute little sorority Susie from a “good” family, criminal acts make you a criminal and will result in criminal punishment.

What the current setup teaches us is that if you can afford a good lawyer (and really, you can’t not afford one) or if your daddy can afford a good lawyer, there is a good chance that you will not be identified as a criminal or even do the 48-hour litter-pickup thing.  Even if someone dies, either you get a pass because you weren’t intoxicated or you cash in on the “Well, I’m not really a criminal, I was just drunk” excuse. My suggestion is simply to get rid of the excuses. When someone is criminally negligent behind the wheel, especially if someone is injured as a result of said negligence, charge that person with the appropriate crime and try him or her for that charge.

Unfortunately, drinking and driving is a cultural habit here. Like many others around the world, many of our domestic celebrations involve the use of alcoholic beverages. Frequently, bars and restaurants are not allowed inside suburbs or residential developments, and so are not within walking distance. So much of what we do requires the use of an automobile because of the way we live. While modifying our lifestyles and habits remains an option, it is probably time to acknowledge who and what we are and deal with the problem from that standpoint.