"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Are DWI laws misplaced with their message?

Have your seen those PSAs that warn about the very severe penalties for DWI? They warn that "buzzed driving is drunk driving." In other words, the hammer of our law enforcement will come down on you if you've simply had "one too many," as the old saying goes.
The PSA on TV shows typical young adults in a lively party scene. I find these PSAs so uncomfortable to watch, I have to sometimes switch channels. The PSAs warn that a DWI will cost you an astronomical amount of money (to use terminology associated with the late Willie Martin). Up to $20,000? That's what we hear. I suppose all this money goes to fuel our law enforcement/legal system. How convenient. Same as those seat built fines which I recall started out at $40 and are now over $100. Oh, but we all need to promote absolutely safe driving, right?
What explains my discomfort at the reminder of such harsh penalties? Surely we can't turn a blind eye to impaired drivers, can we? Surely we can't turn a blind eye to people not bothering with their seat belts, can we?
A little age perspective comes into play here. I am 61 years old. I remember the generation of my parents, the so-called greatest generation, being quite fond of frivolous weekend behavior, going to someplace like the VFW, or attending a Shriners or Legion convention, or going somewhere on New Year's Eve and becoming stumbling drunk. My own parents did nothing like that. But I observed plenty of that behavior. I was familiar with families where such behavior became a family issue and caused sadness, particularly with the kids.
Maybe we gave a pass to the World War II generation, allowing them to pursue their diversions as a means of overcoming the anxiety they felt earlier in their lives. Weren't GIs given free cigarettes in World War II?
There's more to the background I'm offering: The drinking age was lowered just as I graduated from high school in 1973. It was lowered so we could have the privilege of consuming alcohol, based on how young men were being forced to fight and die in Viet Nam. If young men were being tasked with this hellish proposition, their peers should be allowed to behave fully like adults, it was argued. My generation invaded the bars.
Of course, this notion of drinking being equated with maturity came from the alcoholic beverages industry with its incessant commercials. Guys my age grew up watching football on TV with constant beer commercials. Is this still the case? I hardly watch football anymore.
Beer commercials had such a light air. They suggested that beer was to be equated with a carefree feeling about life, as if their product might liberate us in some way. Kick back, watch football and make sure plenty of beer was in the refrigerator.
When young people engage in the typical lively party behavior, are they following their own organic impulses, from within their own generation, or are they reflecting a long and ignoble legacy that has been passed down? I would suggest the latter. We can conclude that we as a society bear the burden of the consequences of excessive party behavior. Young people are taking cues. They see alcohol and drugs as a liberating sort of thing that signals adulthood, something to relish.
We see this quintessential party behavior in those PSAs that warn us about drunk (or "buzzed") driving. And then we're told that your life will become hell - you'll lose everything - if you drive having had "one too many." Of course, it's highly subjective to determine what constitutes "one too many." There has been debate about whether that line should be made more stringent. Maybe you could get nailed if you had just one beer with your pizza some evening. The law could wipe out all social drinking. I don't know about that. Is the purpose really to promote optimally safe driving, or is it to simply punish a form of behavior that our society now looks down on? The latter would be perverse.
But we want optimal safety, right? In an ideal world, right? But alcohol is just one form of impairment. It is sad if anyone gets hurt because of someone having done a minimal amount of social drinking. But what about sleep-deprived drivers? What about drivers who might be on a certain type of medication? And on a broader scale, what about all those senior drivers, drivers over the age of 80 for example, whose reflexes aren't close to being what they once were? Shall we clamp down on all these categories of drivers?
If seniors were to be forced off the road, their middle-age children would all scream about how their parents ought not be deprived of their independence. Our population is aging. If elderly people lose their driving privileges, we'll have to pay more in taxes, which we'll do anyway, to assist these people in their more limited lifestyles.
We start taking risks when we get out of bed in the morning. These draconian punishments for DWI offenses seem out of proportion. Extreme offenses must be handled like the truly problematic things they are. As for "buzzed driving," let's cool it a little. This obsession to punish, as with people not wearing seat belts, has developed a life of its own.
Back when seat belt laws were before the states, surveys showed that people overwhelmingly wanted this to be treated as a secondary offense. What happened to that plurality? You should know that our Morris Police Department still treats seat belt as a primary offense, so be careful. And if I go to Pizza Hut to have a pizza, I will definitely order a Pepsi now.
It's odd that the first time I was pulled over for seat belt, I got a ticket, and the second time I got a warning, just recently. The officer the second time was far more friendly than the first time. That helped a lot. The first time, I went through great duress trying to pay the fine, which I eventually found out (through an employee at the court administrator's office) was due to a clerical error at the Morris Police Department. So, I don't have warm and fuzzy feelings about the Morris Police. The police chief needs to lose some weight. Law enforcement doesn't give me a sense of peace.
I'm an old acquaintance of the person who was the long-time person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling case, Daniel Rassier. That guy was totally railroaded. Please realize that defense attorneys play a very important role in our legal system and our very way of life. Government overreach is always out there as a many-headed hydra. Government (i.e. law enforcement) is made up of human beings who are always trying to impress their own importance.
Take care. Skip the booze. Live your life as if alcohol and cigarettes don't exist. You'll be happier.
The law has been slow to catch up with distracted driving.
- Brian Williams -morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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