Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MADD about you

Somebody has got to get MADD under control. The organization started by Candy Lightner in 1980 initially did a fine job addressing the issue of drunk driving. Campaigns drawing awareness to the dangers might have done more to cut drunk driving accidents but increased enforcement but stiffer penalties certainly made it difficult to suspend better judgment.

Lightner, however, left the organization in 1985 when it was hijacked by oppressive people with a selfish agenda. Candy expressed concern that MADD had abandoned its original mission and replaced it with a neo-prohibition policy. She wanted her daughter's death to precipitate a positive change, not become the catalyst for abolishing civil rights. That suspicion was confirmed by the subsequent presidents who have aggressively backed a 0.0 BAC level.

Lightner believes, and the statistics bear it out, that the current legal limit of .08 is not addressing the issue of drunk driving. People getting tickets for drunk driving are typically less than a 100 th of a percent over the limit and often pulled over for something incidental while the accidents are tied to people testing at .15 BAC or more. Instead of imposing arbitrary BAC threshholds, why not work to put the onus on bars to police their patrons. Boycotting a pub that regularly lets people stagger out the door with keys in hand would do more to get drunk drivers off the road than imposing penalties on people who might not be impaired.

Sobriety checkpoints are a controversial tool supported by MADD. They draw attention to the organization and demonstrate the effort, which justifies the quest for money. However, these checkpoints are not very effective. While a half a dozen police officers tend to a checkpoint, the location of which is identified well in advance, drunk drivers are careening all over the road in other locations throughout the community. Many of them plan an alternate route home from the bar. Besides, there are typically other crimes being committed. Public money and time are wasted on what is really a public relations device.

Reaction to alcohol is subjective. Some people have a higher tolerance than others so a specific BAC doesn't always address the issue of impairment. Not everybody is OK to drive at .07 and some people are sober at .10. MADD readily acknowledges this which is why they currently endorse a ZERO tolerance policy and a corresponding BAC limit of 0.0. They make a compelling case on paper but is it fair? Hell no.

The current testing mechanism isn't fair. Breath analysis devices can register a margin of error of .02-.05. That's bad news for the person who had a glass of wine with dinner and has an actual BAC of .05. If the legal limit is reduced to 0.0 three fourths of the people tested are going to get tickets. It's possible to register a .02 BAC 10 hours after consuming the last of 6 beers. If MADD is really serious about addressing the issue of drunk driving they should put some of that 50 million dollar operating budget behind more effective testing procedures or identify a realistic measurement of impairment rather than wage a witch hunt.

Punishment is another issue. Recently Tony LaRussa was in the news when he was arrested for driving under the influence. The Cardinals skipper dozed off at a traffic light and tested at .09. That's a smidge over the current legal limit and a bit under the old standard. MADD gleefully points out that at .09 LaRussa was clearly impaired but was it because of the booze or was he simply exhausted after a couple of 16 hour days? Perhaps the combination of alcohol and physical exhaustion worked together. Sleepy drivers are often more deadly than drunk drivers.

MADD and its like-minded supporters were quick to demand severe action even though Tony's only crime was holding up traffic. He admitted he was wrong and will pay the consequences in accordance with the law but MADD isn't happy. They believe he's getting off too easy. He should have been fired by the Cardinals and set on fire by Major League Baseball. They are of the attitude that he could have killed somebody and should be punished as such.

Joe Paterno got a lot of hate mail from MADD when he refused to kick a player off his team for getting a DUI. Paterno chalked it up to a stupid mistake and addressed the issue internally but didn't see anything productive coming from turning a kid's life upside down for screwing up one time. The State of Pennsylvania imposed its penalties, Paterno gave the player an earful but it wasn't good enough. MADD felt that Paterno had compromised his integrity by overlooking the deadly potential of the mistake. Had Paterno revoked his scholarship and kicked himoff the team that player might have become a chronic alcohol abuser and a repeat offender, but MADD doesn't care.

That's simply not fair. People must be held accountable for their actions but that accountability should be based on the actual consequences of the actions, not the maximum potential of those actions under different circumstances. Where do you draw the line?

MADD claims that things could have been worse if a police officer hadn't been stuck behind the napping LaRussa. They insist he could have lost control of his vehicle and run somebody over, or his foot could have slipped off the brake and he could have caused a serious accident. You could take that argument a step further and theorize that LaRussa could have crashed into a nuclear power plant and vaporized the state of Florida. Goodness, what if that had been mistaken for an attack and the President retaliated by launching a nuclear strike against China. Tony LaRussa could have destroyed the whole word!

It's just not rational to hold people accountable for what might have been, especially when you're only speculating about the negative consequences. In his impaired state Tony LaRussa could have made a wrong turn and ended up in front of a burning building in time to rush through the flames and save dozens of people. He could have staggered into a convenience store to ask for directions and broken up a robbery.

The reality is nobody knows what could have happened. Tony might have woken up, realized he was unable to drive and called himself a taxi or he might have sheepishly driven back to his room and climbed into bed unscathed. All we know is that Tony got busted for DUI for the first time in his life and nobody got hurt. No need to overreact.

The name of the organization says it all: MADD. These are angry people, many of whom lost a loved one to an alcohol related accident. The propaganda offered by this organization focuses on reckless drivers who were behind the wheel with BAC's of .20 or more. My son Johnny was killed when he ran out in front of a car traveling at 300 miles per hour. The driver was a bottle of Jim Beam. They don't seem to realize that they're illustrating the senselessness of their campaign for a lower BAC. How does a legal limit of .08 cut down on the number of people who get behind the wheel when they can't see straight? Most of the people getting citations for driving under the influence aren't guilty of anything more deadly than failing to signal a turn. Cops troll for DUI's because it's easy money and unless there's an accident the guy blowing a .083 gets the same punishment as the boozehound registering a whopping .183. Is that fair?

Instead of going after real issues MADD focuses on the money maker. Alcohol provides a measurable evil. And it attracts millions of people who want to see alcohol banned in general, not just from the highways. Even though many of the accidents attributed to alcohol often have other factors involved MADD would have you believe that booze is always bad. So if we have a 15 car pile up on an icy freeway MADD will pour over the records to see if anybody had any alcohol in their system. If one person gargled with Listerine that morning MADD is there with a lynch mob and the state patrol had better list alcohol as the culprit.

MADD doesn't concern itself with other impairment issues even though there are hazards much more deadly than somebody at .08. Cellular phones, LCD televisions and laptop computers cause more accidents than .08. People who drive while gobbling down breakfast pose a greater risk. We don't even have a reliable method for determining the level of impairment associated with illegal drugs, but MADD wants to make it illegal for people to think about drinking if they plan on driving. People are driving with no brakes and MADD wants a breathalyzer attached to every ignition.

It's not even about safety anymore. MADD has already fulfilled its purpose and refuses to accept the challenge of taking on other issues. They have a cash cow and they have greedy business associates. As long as they can connect drinking with driving, no matter how much of a stretch that connection might be, they can collect money and broker power. It's all about the bureaucracy. MADD is an organization drunk with its own influence. That's more dangerous than all the impaired drivers in the world.

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