More Public Deception

For some time, the NMA has taken on the lonely role of objecting to certain elements of MADD, SADD, BADD, DADD, RADD, etc. campaigns against drunk driving. (For the 300th time, we are not in favor of drunk driving.) Admittedly, our stands have been pretty radical, e.g., police should have probable cause to stop and test motorists, BAC standards should be reasonable, and that people charged with DWI should have access to a fair trial.

We have also objected to the use of terms and statistics that are deliberately designed to deceive the public and build support for the political and financial benefit of certain organizations and agencies. One of our favorites is NHTSA's "alcohol-related fatalities".

This statistical misnomer implies that virtually any measurable amount of alcohol in a victim's system is clear evidence that alcohol was the cause of the fatality. A pedestrian, with one drink, run over on the sidewalk by a sober driver becomes an alcohol-related fatality. By the time MADD gets done massaging the message "alcohol-related" becomes "killed by drunk drivers."

So what's wrong with a little exaggeration, hyperbole or dishonesty, as long as it addresses a serious highway safety problem? Plenty.

In the 1950's, the National Safety Council initiated the same sort of process with its "Speed Kills" campaign. Velocity became the enemy of mankind. It was the "Speed Kills" hysteria that set the stage for the public policies that made driving at higher speeds synonymous with reckless driving. "Speed Kills" justified the use of radar enforcement, underposting of speed limits, excessive fines, insurance surcharges, and raised the use of speed traps to the fine art form we enjoy today. It is the principal reason the 55 mph speed limit was made permanent and why this dysfunctional law remains on the books today. "Speed Kills" is the underlying philosophical justification for setting and enforcing unreasonable speed limits.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration and the collective body of "?ADD'S" have embarked on a campaign to lower legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels to .08%. This is being done despite the facts that persons with BAC's under .1% to .08% are not over- represented in accidents, that most true alcohol-related accidents involve much higher BAC's, and that any person exhibiting impaired driving skills can be charged and convicted of drunk driving, regardless of per se BAC standards.

As might be expected there is some resistance to lowering BAC standards to .08%. For the most part, it is the owners of restaurants and taverns who have a direct vested interest in the outcome that constitute the opposition. However, there is a sprinkling of plaintiff attorneys, district attorneys, judges and professional treatment practitioners who voice opposition.

From a practical perspective .08% BAC's means 2 or 3 drinks within an hour and the person is eligible for a drunk driving citation. That's what all the charts have said for years. That is until now.

A new chart just released lists as its source NHTSA and MADD. This chart says a 180 pound person needs five drinks to hit .08%. That certainly doesn't sound like an unreasonable standard. But why the disparity between this chart and the traditional versions? Here's why.

Legislators are a little reluctant to buy into a BAC standard that virtually outlaws social drinking and driving, particularly when the proposed standard will put them in the "drunk driver" category. The proponents' solution is to put out a new series of charts that show people can consume more drinks before hitting illegal limits for driving. What's not mentioned is that the consumption period is stretched to three hours (from one hour) and the alcohol content level or drink volume amount, per drink is reduced!

This is great for political maneuvering purposes, but it sure does a disservice to the driving public. This practice continues a pattern of misinformation and deception that deserves exposure and condemnation. Unfortunately, to suggest that any of the anti-alcohol organizations or their motives are less pure than fresh driven snow in like suggesting speed doesn't kill.

Source: January/February 1992 NMA News

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