Friday, October 24, 2014

Upping likelihood of arrest might not be the right move

5/17/2013

The decision to drink alcoholic beverages oftentimes comes as a result of learning who in a group is selected to be the designated driver. That person doesn’t drink so everyone else in the group is able to enjoy an adult beverage while also being assured of safe passage home.

That method isn’t good enough for some though.

The decision to drink alcoholic beverages oftentimes comes as a result of learning who in a group is selected to be the designated driver. That person doesn’t drink so everyone else in the group is able to enjoy an adult beverage while also being assured of safe passage home.

That method isn’t good enough for some though.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended this week that states stiffen the blood alcohol limit criteria used to declare that someone is driving drunk. The recommendation to go from the current 0.08 blood alcohol level to 0.05 says that drivers’ visual and cognitive functions are impaired enough at the lower blood alcohol level to impair some motorists’ capabilities. The proposed change is based on a report that showed fewer traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving once the change was made.

The report indicated that in Europe drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the change was made. That is fairly amazing based on how many Europeans have access to and utilize public transportation. Many factors, such as gender, size, food consumption that day and genes, go into determining how many drinks are too many to be able to drive, so the best decision is not to drive after consuming any alcoholic beverages. That point of view is ingrained in many law-abiding people so a change of this sort, if seriously considered, shouldn’t impact them. Still, it pushes the limits of what’s necessary.

Though a simple recommendation is a long way from being a change in law, no doubt states could be penalized if they don’t adopt a new recommended standard passed down from the U.S. government. In 2000, for example, highway construction money was withheld for states that didn’t lower the blood alcohol limits to 0.08.

It should be noted that some select groups, such as commercial truck drivers and young drivers, already are held to higher standards on blood alcohol content levels.

Of course, law enforcement officers don’t need lower standards to stop someone for suspicion of drunk driving, nor do they need lower standards to arrest people for it. Law enforcement officers have the legal authority to pull anyone over if that motorist can’t safely operate his or her vehicle regardless of the amount of intoxicant in question.

While everyone wants safer roads, lawmakers and the public need to consider the possible impact on the jails and courts too, since this kind of a change would drive up costs in those areas as well.

Though this kind of change might keep the person who consumed one drink from having two, it seems like it would be a waste of resources to empower police to send someone to jail for essentially having an odor of alcohol on their breath. This is an overreach that needs further study of all the potential impacts before taking it seriously.

 — Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher

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