People can become true believers in the cause du jour and turn what might have been a modest movement to reform some mistake or misjudgment into an insane crusade to upend all reason and logic. Examples abound, from the Salem witch trials in the 1690’s to the child sexual abuse hysteria of the 1980’s and the more recent manic idiocy over supposed man-made global warming. These and other examples have in common a push over the edge of truth to a foundation of false beliefs and manipulated facts. Only after much damage has been done do people come to their senses and halt further destruction.
Shrinkwrapped blog (Not updated since 2012 but all the old posts remain online) writes,
Human beings are not by nature moderates. When we incorporate a new belief or feel passionately about anything, we tend to embrace it with heated, and irrational, intensity. The history of human progress includes a tendency for all revolutions to go over-board; the French Revolution is far more the norm than the American revolution. Certainly not everyone grasps new paradigms with the full efflorescence of their passions but enough do to imprint the movement. Usually there is a plausible basis for such extremism. For example, if you follow the chain of associations from elevated CO2 in the atmosphere caused by man’s activity all the way through the dubious chain to catastrophic global warming (or climate disruption or whatever the prevailing environmentalist extremist meme of the day) then the planet’s biosphere is at stake and all measures must be considered to “save the planet.” Extremism is a natural default state for homo sapiens. It is built into our neurophysiology which demands that the world be divided into Manichean all-good and all-bad.
Drunk driving laws have become a raving, irrational battle to brand every social drinker with the stigma of a DUI conviction. This is not to say that driving while intoxicated should be tolerated, only that one should actually be guilty before judgment is passed. That’s not the case now. The key words in this affair are “drunk”, “driving” and “vehicle.” Driving a vehicle while drunk should be the operative criteria, but it no longer is that at all.
A man I know visited a night club and stayed until closing at 2:00 A.M. He had too much to drink, and when he got to his car in the parking lot he realized that he was in no condition to drive. He was almost the last one to leave that night, and there was no one around to give him a ride home. He didn’t have his cell phone to call a cab, so he decided to just lie down in the back seat and sleep it off. Around 4:00 A.M. a police officer patrolling the area noticed a lone vehicle in the parking lot and stopped to investigate. He noticed the man sleeping in the back seat and tapped on the window. The man emerged and explained to the officer that he didn’t feel safe to drive when he came out so decided to sleep long enough to metabolize the alcohol. The officer gave the man roadside sobriety tests which he flunked, and he was arrested for DUI. At the station the breathalyzer indicated a BAC above the legal limit. He was charged with DUI and later convicted.
Some would say this man did the right thing by not driving, so how can he be convicted of DUI? Because it’s no longer just driving that will get you convicted. Sleeping in or even near a car with a BAC over the limit has been held by numerous courts to satisfy the prerequisites for a DUI conviction.
A vehicle would be a car or a truck, right? Wrong. You can be convicted of DUI for being over the limit while riding a bicycle, a riding lawn mower, riding a horse (yes, that’s right) or pushing by hand a non-functional motorcycle along side a dirt road in the country.
It used to be that to convict one of DUI it was necessary to prove that they were intoxicated to the point that their coordination, reaction time, or other senses were sufficiently impaired that they could not safely operate a motor vehicle. Now the law is a per se matter, if you have a breath test over .08 you are per se guilty. Never mind that different people have different tolerances for alcohol and that one person might be impaired at a level lower that .08 and another might be perfectly fine at a higher level. Also, never mind that The American Medical Association did studies in the 1930’s which established that .15 is the level at which most people become unsafe to operate a motor vehicle. The object of DUI laws is no longer to get drunk drivers off the road, it is to convict as many people as possible.
Not only does a .08 or higher BAC as determined from a sample of your breath in a machine called a breathalyzer make you guilty without further proof, the machine has a long record of being unreliable by frequently giving inaccurate test results. In 2011 The Attorney General for the District of Columbia dismissed dozens of DUI cases, and later moved to vacate convictions in hundreds more, upon a discovery that the breathalyzer they use, the one most widely used around the country, has been giving inaccurate test results for the last three years. This scenario is not an isolated incident. Conviction by machine, faulty machine that is, is all too common. Lives are being destroyed for harmless behavior while the worst recidivist actual drunk drivers continue their mayhem on the highway. Since all resources are finite and scarce, all that are devoted to arresting social drinkers who pose no risk to anyone are necessarily withdrawn from other more productive venues where they might actually make a difference.
There is so much more to say about this hysteria that is a blazing example of the remedy being worse that the disease. For further reading on this subject I recommend Lawrence Taylor’s DUI Blog. Mr. Taylor is an acclaimed expert on DUI law and the pattern of injustice that follows from it. A post from 2011, Metamorphosis of a Crime, provides essential background for understanding the political implications of DUI laws in America.