Let’s Talk About Driving Under the Influence

let's talk about DUI

Driving for Change in how we fight DUI

by Matt VossMatt-Voss-thumbnail


Dad always said that a punishment should fit the crime. Well, the current system of dealing with people found to be driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) – wherein we suspend driving privileges – completely misses the point.

If we added up all the American lives lost in the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the attacks of 9/11, we would still fall short of the number of our citizens that died in drunk driving accidents -in 2015.

In 2015 alone, DUI claimed the lives of 10,265 people in this country; that’s an average of 28 bodies every single day. (2015 is the most recent year for which data is available.)

The system is in dire need of an overhaul. Treating driving like it’s the issue fails to address even a symptom of the real problem, much less the cause, and people are dying by the tens of thousands.

The system doesn’t work

Disturbingly, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declares that a full third of those convicted of DUI will go on to do it again.

Moreover, one in eight fatal crashes in this country involves a driver convicted of DUI within the past three years. Such high percentages of repeat offenses clearly show the impotence of our criminal justice system’s idea of correction.

The issue that the system fails to address is not that too much driving leads to poor decision making, but that too much alcohol does.

What if the Department of Motor Vehicles was known for more than long lines and sour faces; what if the DMV was known for saving lives?

What if governments could do even more than that; what if they could boast the true rehabilitation of those convicted of DUI and make them better, more productive citizens than ever before?

So what do we do about it? Here’s One Idea…

Most adult Americans already carry an ID card everywhere they go, but what they may not realize is that some states have already begun putting barcodes on the backs for easy scanning by police, bar bouncers, or what-have-you. That simple system is already in place, but it’s capable of much more than its original purpose.

Suppose a good citizen of Such-and-Such, USA were to go out for a drink. Instead of showing their ID to the bouncer as usual, they would simply swipe their ID’s magnetic strip just like they would a credit card.

The swipe would trigger a search of an already-in-place online database for any probation, outstanding arrest warrants, or recent DUI trouble connected with that person.

Too much work for a drink?

Most people handle their booze just fine and will never have to show up in court to defend it. These responsible drinkers would just walk on through, authorized to imbibe as usual, and never needing concern themselves with any system, new or old.

If the hassle of swiping a card is the issue, one might wonder how they intend to pay for that drink.

For those flagged with, say, a recent DUI conviction, they would then be treated the same way we currently treat minors or any other citizen not authorized to drink alcohol.

Naturally, the same system would monitor the purchases of alcohol at liquor stores; something we already “card” for anyway.

I’m perhaps out of my depth when I say that faking these strips and database entries would be difficult, but unless you’re a hacker extraordinaire, I’m confident that it wouldn’t be easy.

On the other hand, if this system was just half as successful as I think it could be, we could see almost overnight the benefits of better protecting our children from underage alcohol abuse, and even save some tax dollars by shutting down the black market sales of illegal fake IDs to minors. Safer kids, safer streets, less cost; everybody wins.

But I have the right to drink, don’t I?

There are those who would say that drinking is a civil liberty, and to restrict it would be a violation of their rights as Americans. To this there are two points to make.

The first of which is that although the generations alive today never lived it, they have surely heard of prohibition. From 1920-1933, the selling and production of alcohol were illegal, and despite its being repealed after thirteen years, prohibition held some merit for those who may have otherwise become full-blown alcoholics.

Of course, I’m not advocating that we go back to prohibition, because that would mean taking alcohol away from the people that are perfectly capable of enjoying it responsibly; I’m merely pointing out that we can glean from our own history that neither of the two extremes works.

At 240+ years old, our nation should be growing out of adolescence and toward a more mature state of moderation.

Drinking is a privilege, not a right

A second point to that argument is right under the nose of every American. Do we not already allow our government to issue license to drive our own cars, remodel our own homes, hunt or fish our own land, gamble in a casino, vote in an election, or to fly an airplane?

We’re not allowed to defend our country until 18 or drink a beer until 21, but if we break the rules and get put on probation or parole, one or both are once again off-limits. We  even allow the government to decide when we can buy pornography and sinus medication.

The sad truth is that all of those things combined kill far fewer people than alcohol does when it’s given control of a motor vehicle. *DUI has killed more people every year since 1970, five years before the end of the Vietnam War.

Let’s talk about alcohol

We are all aware of the short-term effects of alcohol; it’s not called a social lubricant for nothing, and it’s been a staple at parties for thousands of years. It can certainly make for a good time, but having just one too many can also damage or destroy relationships or even kill you.

Overdoing it over a longer period of time can cause loads of health issues (guys, I’m talking erectile dysfunction) or it can cause the destruction of our very selves.

Let us not forget that alcohol is a depressant, and that its abuse, long- or short-term, has negatively affected countless lives. Chances are that someone close to you was touched by alcohol-related emotional abuse, physical violence, or death. While bad things happen with and without alcohol, I can’t think of a time when it did me any favors. Let’s talk bout the numbers.

The truth is that alcohol is a factor in 40% of the homicides in this country, 37% of sexual assaults, and yet is almost automatically adopted by most as a coping mechanism for anything from having spent a day at work to drinking away the very problems excessive drinking creates.

Alcoholism is a slippery slope, and taking away a problem drinker’s driver’s license does nothing to keep them from slipping further. Losing a license can also mean the loss of a job, which will likely drive them ever more to the bottle, and give them more time at home to spend drinking.

You may be thinking that you know better and are better-equipped to handle life’s problems. I hope you are right, but then, I’m talking about the people that don’t know better and aren’t yet equipped with the tools to better themselves. We can’t expect the drunk to act on what only the sober know, yet instead of a hand up, they get crushed under a thumb.

Cure alcoholism, save the world?

A system where alcoholics are forced to relinquish that old crutch, but are also supported with integral learning life lessons and encouraged by a community to find healthier coping mechanisms would be a win for everyone.

Imagine being able to think clearly about what you want to do, possibly for the first time; it would be like sight to the blind. A little sobriety would literally redefine the self-image of a drunk, and the tailor-made rehabilitation curriculum would help them get on their feet in a new and powerful way.

The benefits to society at large that this system would bring are equally monumental. Alcohol related crashes cost anywhere from $37-52 billion annually, so correcting the broken system and putting those dollars elsewhere could mean big things for this country across all economic levels.

Imagine just a tincture of that going toward educating our kids or free public healthcare or research on Alzheimer’s disease. Did you know that the leading cause of death in this world is contaminated water?

$50 billion could provide every human being on the planet with clean water and have enough left over to put a dent in world hunger. I know I aim high, but we’ll never have what we don’t aim for, right? Anyway, I digress..

Helping people to get out of the muck and rise above their circumstances takes more than just the fear of punishment and monthly handouts. The saying goes “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.”

Instead of incarcerating them, we need to come alongside these people and walk with them, teaching them how to live a better life of which they and their families and their neighbors can be proud.

A call to action

There are roughly 1.4 million new DUI convictions each year, and with the astonishing rate of repeat offenders of DUI, we plainly see that the problem is too big to be ignored and that the current system of correcting the behavior is broken.

It fails to address the fact that alcohol is always the issue in a DUI conviction, not the driving. Implementing a system of preventative measures that appropriately fit the crime and working in the mindset of rehabilitation could potentially take this country into a new era of temperance and personal responsibility.

It only makes sense that a punishment would fit the crime, and for those that commit the crime to be properly dissuaded from repeating it. Not through fear of punishment, but through education of how the behavior punishes them.

This idea will remain just an idea until it finds the right eyes. Those eyes will belong to someone with the wherewithal, the gumption, and the chutzpah to bring about a change. I don’t know if it will be an activist or a legislator, but I encourage all who read this to share it until it meets those eyes.

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