"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, December 17, 2004

Drinking and Driving

Sean Gabb, of the Libertarian Alliance, based in Great Britain, has written an excellent piece on "Why Drinking and Driving Should Not Be a Crime," published a while ago on his Free Life Commentary site. Sean has sent it to me because he notes that he is at present "the only person in the country willing to go on air and oppose the general hysteria over drinking and driving." His argument is a powerful one, based on the idea that the law should not use prior restraint but instead impose appropriate punishment for harmful actions—and driving a vehicle after drinking alcohol cannot reasonably be called harmful unless someone is actually harmed by it. Thus and in tandem, Gabb calls for far stronger penalties for those whose drinking or other bad driving choices result in negligent homicides and similar disasters.

Gabb points out that the law is despotic in its effect, as it gives the government free reign to stop people and question them about whether they have done something wrong, which no liberal regime would do, and certainly not as a habit. To me, this is a critical point.

Finally, Gabb notes that the law "has a double agenda, one open, the other hidden; and pursuit of the latter compromises pursuit of the former. Years of propaganda about the horrors of drinking and driving have tended to obscure the fact that alcohol is not the only cause of driving impairment. Rather as I have, most people have come to attach notions of extreme immorality to drinking before driving. Few such notions are attached to driving while tired or stressed, or after drinking lots of tea or coffee, or while in desperate need of a pee. Yet these are often at least as dangerous as driving slightly above the legal alcohol limit. And they are ignored.

". . . [M]uch of the propaganda against drinking and driving has nothing to do with reducing injuries to life and property, and everything to do with making it harder to enjoy a drink in good company. Macaulay once said of the 17th century puritans that they hated bearbaiting not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. His epigram applies equally well to the modern puritans, who bray about the horrors of driving after half a pint of lager while refusing even to consider the effects of half a gallon of black coffee."

Excellent article; read it here.

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