Drunk Driving Hysteria and the Neo-Prohibitionists

On May 13th, 1980, thirteen year old Cari Lightner was walking down the street in her suburban California neighborhood when a drunk driver named Clarence Bush ended her short life. By 1985, the man was convicted of his sixth drunk driving offense.

What's worse, the man only ultimately served 16 months for this act of vehicular manslaughter. This, understandably, did not sit well with her mother, Candy Lightner. Instead of firebombing the guy's house and shooting his dog, though, Candy formed MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, which was eventually renamed Mothers Against Drunk Driving: “I promised myself on the day of Cari's death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead.”

But MADD got away from Lightner, pushing not just against drunk driving, but becoming “far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned. I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”  She is no longer associated with the group.

The neo-prohibitionist agenda began with their push for the .08 blood alcohol content limit to be considered a drunk driver. That is an absurdly low number, and directs police resources away from real threats. Said Lightner: “The majority of crashes occur with high blood-alcohol levels, the .15, .18 and .25 drinkers. Lowering the blood-alcohol concentration was not a solution to the alcohol problem….If we really want to save lives, let's go after the most dangerous drivers on the road.”

But instead, they arrest people like Paris Hilton for having one margarita and blowing exactly .08. I enjoy a little healthy Schadenfreud as much as the next guy, but Paris was railroaded.

But harassing vacuous amateur pornstar heiress' is probably the least damaging thing that has happened since MADD became fascists. This new zero-tolerance approach has led to some absurd and chilling ends. Reports reason:

During the Christmas season of 2003 in Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington not far from the site of Debra Bolton's arrest, local police took pre-emptive law enforcement to an absurd extreme, launching a sting operation that targeted 20 local bars and restaurants. The mission: apprehend “drunk” patrons before they try to drive. These drinkers were far from their cars and in some cases did not even own cars. What type of evidence did the police use to measure intoxication? According to one law enforcement official involved in the sting, the determination could be made based on unflicked cigarette ashes, an excessive number of restroom visits, noisy cursing, or a wobbly walk.

The raids involved 10 cops in SWAT-like outfits. In an interview with The Reston Times, the general manager of one targeted establishment said “they tapped one lady on the shoulder-who was on her first drink and had just eaten dinner-to take her out on the sidewalk and give her a sobriety test. They told her she fit the description of a woman they had complaints about, and that they heard she was dancing topless.”

In one raid, of the 18 drinkers tested for sobriety, nine were hauled to jail for public intoxication. When asked to explain the rationale for the raids, then-Fairfax County Police Chief J. Thomas Mange declared that you “can't be drunk in a bar.” Where can you be drunk? “At home. Or at someone else's home. And stay there until you're not drunk.”

The War on Drunk Driving is turning into the War on Drinking, and it looks a lot like The War on Drugs. This should not give you peace of mind.

The latest salvo in this war happened on May 26th in Oceanside, California. SignOnSanDiego reports:

Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears a few to near hysterics May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.

The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student's seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour…

…About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene.

Though the deception left some teens temporarily confused and angry, if it makes even one student think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, it is worth the price, said California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury, who orchestrates the program at local high schools.

This is the result of a program by MADD called “Every Fifteen Minutes,” and represents the culmination of the full circle made by the group, beginning with the mission to prevent drunk drivers from harming more children and ending with the group itself terrorizing those same children with a cruel and sadistic prank.

I can't wait to see their Sex Education class – kids will probably get calls from “doctors,” informing them they have full blown AIDS and will be dead within the year.  They'll let them sob uncontrollably for an hour.

“Psych! Just kidding! Wear a condom!”

(Hat tip to Radley Balko's Agitator blog.)


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