Sunday, March 21, 2004

Take Away the Bottle

I like this proposal from Mark Kleiman - instead of (or, in some cases in addition to) taking away peoples' driving licenses when they drive drunk, you could take away their license to drink.
For many people, taking away their ability to drive also takes away their ability to earn a living. Drunk driving laws are enforced selectively, both at the police stage and once they hit the legal system. I'm not against drunk driving laws, but I do think that in many states the penalty for even a 1st offense with a low (.08) limit are too strong. I'm sure that the penalty of taking someone's license away is a pretty strong deterrent, but aside from that I don't think it takes more drunks off the roads. I mean, once people are caught and convicted it isn't as if the fact that they don't have a license for 3 months is going to make them less likely to drink and drive during that time. Some other punishment could have a strong deterrent as well without depriving 1st offenders from their ability to earn a living.

Mark lists a bunch of possible objections to this, but none of them are particularly strong.

Kevin Drum is concerned about drivers' license creep - with the license increasingly becoming a defacto necessary national ID. Well, it's already the effective "drinking license" for anyone who looks to be under 30.

... Yes, of course I think drunk driving is a serious thing and there should be laws which have a serious deterrent effect.

... I'm concerned about punishments being "too strong" for two reasons. First, I'm concerned that the mandatory punishments cause too many cops and judges to try and look the other way. Every location has a famous "DUI lawyer" who can get anyone off for the right price. I'd prefer broader enforcement to selective enforcement. Second, no matter how harsh you think the penalties should be, I think that any penalties which essentially prevent people from functioning in this society are extremely harsh. Restricting peoples' ability to drive in most places is an *extremely harsh* penalty. My opinion is that even if we want a *harsh* penalty, it's the *wrong* penalty. Fine them. Make them do community service. Stick a breathalyzer on their car ignition. Send them to jail. Hey, maybe forbid them from purchasing or consuming alcohol. All of those can be harsh penalties, but they're different harsh penalties - ones which (other than jail, of course) don't prevent you from earning a living.

...and, yes, we'd spend a lot less time yammering about this issue if we had better public transit systems or at least more mixed use development which put people closer to the bars.