The other day I was driving northbound on I-35, just past the on-ramp from Antioch, when I noticed a new billboard. It is white with big black letters that say “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving”. This billboard is sponsored by the National Highway Transportation Administrative (NHTSA) and the AdCouncil. NHTSA is the agency that came up with the so-called “field sobriety tests”.
I saw this billboard on the same day that I read an article in the Metropolitan section of the Kansas City Star entitled “Kansas Curbs Drunken Driving” (Aug. 25, 2005). The article indicated that the number of fatalities in which one of the drivers was over the legal limit had dropped over a one year period. One could quibble with the numbers, but that is not the purpose of this entry into the Kansas DUI blog.
What struck me, on the day when the government advised that “buzzed” driving was drunk driving, was a quote from Mary Ann Khoury, president and chief executive of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas. Ms. Khoury says, “What I look at are all alcohol-related crashes, not just necessarily .08. They’re not giving you the real picture because a person at .07 kills.”
The law against driving while intoxicated is a good law. It prohibits driving when you are so intoxicated that your mental and physical abilities are impaired to the extent you cannot safely operate a car. Getting a “buzz” generally means one has consumed some alcohol and can feel the effects thereof to some degree. Feeling a buzz is usually a good sign to stop drinking if one is planning to drive a car in the near future. However, this idea that buzzed driving is the same as drunk driving is false, misleading and an effort to persuade drivers, and the judges and jurors who sit in judgment of those accused of driving under the influence, that any consumption of alcohol prior to driving is illegal. That is not the law.
This is part of the modern prohibition movement in America. The legal limit has been lowered time after time as the political football of DUI gets kicked around by MADD and state legislators. The legal limit started at .15, then went to .12, .10 and recently .08. For a good history and discussion of this issue check out the blog of attorney Lawrence Taylor http://www.duiblog.com/2004/10/20 (MADD and the New Prohibition).
Do drivers kill at .07? Of course they do. Do they kill at .04? Yes. Do they kill at .000, when they are not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs? Absolutely, and to a greater extent than intoxicated drivers do. There is a concerted effort underway prohibit driving after the consumption of anything, whatsoever, or at least give the impression that it is illegal to do so. That is not the law. That should not be the law.
I don’t advocate driving with a buzz, and certainly would not suggest that anyone drive with more than a buzz. But, this effort to link the slightest alcohol consumption with “drunk driving” is an attempt to mislead the public and prevent those who are stopped for DUI, but who are not actually drunk from getting a fair trial.