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Anti-alcohol Zeal Has Replaced
MADD's Common Sense
John Doyle, Scripps
Howard News Service
It started when you brought your kids to the restaurant.
Anxiety began to set in when you ordered that single glass
of wine. Driving home, you hit a police roadblock. And the
courts took your kids away.
Sound like the trailer for a bad movie? It's actually a
top priority for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This
previously admirable group has slipped into pure
anti-alcohol zealotry with its ''zero tolerance'' campaign
against drinking anything at all before driving. If you
are a divorced parent who drives your kids safely home
after having a single drink, MADD wants you to lose your
parental rights. That's right, MADD wants this
Prohibitionist requirement written into every separation
agreement and divorce decree.
Reducing the legal blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC,
arrest threshold to zero ' whether for divorced parents or
anyone else ' may sound like a get-tough policy, but even
MADD knows that won't lessen the drunk driving problem.
During the last few years, nearly every state in the
nation has reduced its BAC limit from .10 percent to .08
percent. The result? Drunk driving fatalities have
The Los Angeles Times recently reported ''some experts
worry that new laws will actually reduce the attention
placed on catching highly intoxicated drivers that cause
the most deadly accidents.'' Indeed, the founder of MADD
says ''the movement I helped create has lost direction.
(Lowering legal BAC limits) ignores the real core of the
problem... If we really want to save lives, let's go after
the most dangerous drivers on the road.''
At their news conference announcing the zero tolerance
policy for divorced parents, MADD highlighted two tragic
cases in which mothers killed or injured their children in
alcohol-related accidents. Both women had a BAC
approximately three times the legal limit. Clearly MADD's
call for zero tolerance would have had no impact on these
Drunken drivers involved in fatal accidents have an
average BAC of .16 percent, which is already twice the
legal limit in most states. To get that drunk, a 180-pound
man would have to drink eight beers in one hour, or one
drink every seven minutes. According to Herb Simpson, the
winner of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving's
2003 ''Humanitarian of the Year'' Award, ''These people
don't have a glass of wine with dinner or a couple of
beer(s). They're having 8, 10, 12, 14... '' Even MADD
admits that the drunk driving problem has been reduced to
a ''hard core of alcoholics.''
No one with an IQ above room temperature condones drunk
driving, but it is absurd to equate alcohol abusers with
the 25 million Americans who drink responsibly prior to
driving. Scientific evidence proves that this legal
behavior is far safer than driving while talking on a cell
phone with a hands-free device. Studies from the
University of Utah, the New England Journal of Medicine
and elsewhere show that drivers using a hands-free cell
phone are more ''impaired'' than drivers at .08 percent
Lowering BAC limits below the ubiquitous .08 percent will
only fill our courtrooms with adults who, by current law
and common sense, are driving responsibly. Policemen have
better things to do than wait around to testify about a
divorced father who had one beer at a ballpark before
driving his kids home. And let's not forget the six hours
policemen can spend ' mostly on paperwork ' just making
and processing a DWI arrest.
So why would anyone want to focus law enforcement
resources on a mom who had a glass of wine with dinner?
All too often, traffic safety policy has been hijacked by
puritanical opponents of adult beverages. Utah recently
passed a MADD-blessed law lowering BAC levels to .05
percent for repeat offenders with kids in the car. George
Van Komen, who co-wrote an original version of the law
calling for .02 percent, opposes all alcohol consumption,
period. He leads an organization formerly called the
Anti-Saloon League and the National Temperance League.
Temperance is also on the tongue of MADD's highest
officials. MADD President Wendy Hamilton recently wrote
''the thought that (driving) can be successfully combined
with alcohol on the part of the driver or even the
passengers defies any logic I can imagine.'' Even the
passengers? Is MADD so anti-alcohol that they oppose
designated drivers? A lobbying behemoth, MADD has an
annual budget of $46 million. It spends more than $12
million a year on salaries and benefits. Now that the
drunk driving problem has been reduced to alcoholics who
happily ignore their PR campaigns, MADD has become an
institution in search of a mission. Its latest campaigns
are demonstrative of its new cause: prohibition, drip by
The peril posed by alcohol abusers, who are the primary
cause of the nation's drunk driving problem today, will
remain undiminished as long as law enforcement focuses on
the wrong target: adults who drive legally, responsibly
and safely after drinking moderately. Political and
financial resources being finite, it is imperative not to
spend them chasing responsible parents just to keep
special interest groups in business.
John Doyle is executive director of the American Beverage
Institute, an association of restaurants committed to the
responsible serving of adult beverages.
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