Monday, November 17, 2008

Tighten laws on getting tight

The New York Times recently published an article dealing with the culture of drinking in Wisconsin, one that has already sparked some debate in newspapers and blogs across the state. It's an issue that was already on the minds of many folks 'round these parts, and rightfully so.

Wisconsin has the highest rate of binge drinking in the nation - a dubious honor, at best. We also have some of the most lax drunk driving laws, giving motorists four strikes before hitting them with a felony charge on their fifth offense.

And while I am not but any means an advocate of teetotalism, I also see a huge difference between government telling adults when they can or cannot drink, and government telling people that they will be severely punished for drinking and driving, or other alcohol-related offenses.

This won't make me popular with quite a few of my fellow Wisconsinites, but there simply is no excuse for drinking and driving. Period.

Oh but you know your limits! You can have four beers and then get into a car and drive just fine! Or my personal favorite: "I drive better when I've had a few!"

Screw. You.

My sober ass is out there on the road with you, and I really don't feel like taking you at your word on that. There are also children, and mothers, and fathers and friends sharing asphalt with your drunk-ass. Remember that next time you think about knocking a few back and then crawling into your car, will you?

But as much of a fan of personal responsibility as I am, I also firmly believe that our drunk driving laws need to be much, much more strict. Get caught doing it once? Misdemeanor (second chances are important). Twice? Take away their license and send 'em to counseling. Third and beyond? Felony, no question. Get these people off the roads.

Back to the article, though, there were a couple of quotes that really got my dander up:

“We’re not ashamed of it,” Mr. Madland said. He said anti-alcohol campaigns were efforts to “demonize” people who simply liked to kick back and relax with some drinks.

“It’s gotten to the point where people are afraid to have a couple of beers after work and drive home, for fear they’ll be labeled a criminal,” he said. “At lunch, people are afraid if they order a beer someone will think they have a drinking problem.”
Most anti-alcohol campaigns are not out to demonize people for relaxing with a few drinks - they're out to lessen the amount of binge drinking that goes on, and to stop people from having a few drinks and then hopping into their cars. And that fear that you'll be labeled a criminal for doing so? Well, then maybe it should make you think twice about doing it, shouldn't it. Have a glass of water afterward, and wait out the buzz before driving (or, y'know, don't get totally trashed). It's not that hard.

And then there's this:
“On game days, a buddy of mine will come to the bar with his 2-year-old, his 8-year-old and his 10-year-old,” Mr. Whaley said. “He might get a little drunk. But his wife just has a few cocktails. It’s no big deal. Everybody has a good time.”
I'm going to echo the sentiments expressed over at Caffeinated Politics and say, then who the hell is driving those kids home?

These are the types of attitudes that need to be combated. There's nothing inherently wrong with drinking, but our prevailing ideas about what levels are acceptable, how we approach transportation afterward, and how we teach our children to understand the issue, are more than a little messed up.

(the Madison Beer Review has a pretty good/interesting take on this issue, here)


John A said...

Simply put: hear, hear.

Agree with your proposed approach 100%.

Dave Reid said...

Personally I think the issue is really the driving. Our national car culture that equates driving with freedom plays a role in this problem for sure. Get drunk, have a couple, or whatever but then take a cab, the bus, or walk.

Further our zoning laws encourage people to drive to the bars as well.. A little more on that here:

The Lost Albatross