The Drunk Driving Debate: Can We Lose the Red Herrings?

drunk-driving-debate-red-herringThere’s a drunk driving debate heating up in just about every state in the country. Ohio debated Annie’s Law, which would mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk

driving offenders, and managed to get it through the State Senate. Maryland recently passed a similar law, as has Vermont and Rhode Island. Wisconsin is getting tougher on multiple DUI offenders, and the NTSB has called for the lowering of the allowable blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05. California is considering SB 1046, which extends ignition interlocks to all DUI offenders.

This has made a lot of news, and generated discussion and controversy, which is fine. What isn’t fine is when the waters get muddied with distractions – red herrings. And we see one red herring in particular again and again, in the comments sections of news articles, on social media, and anywhere public opinion is expressed. In fact, it’s so regular we can call it a law.

drunk-driving-debate-red-herring-1The Law of DUI Debate: In any discussion of drunk driving, someone will say, “Sure, punish drunk drivers, but meanwhile drivers are texting and getting away with it!”

drunk-driving-debate-red-herring-2Variation 1: “Texting while driving is just as bad. Why aren’t people going after those people?”

drunk-driving-red-herringVariation 2: “This won’t have any effect because the texters are all still out there on the roads.”

We don’t know why people feel the need to bring up texting as a way to minimize the problem of drunk driving. Sure, distracted driving is causing injury and claiming lives on the road.  It’s definitely a problem. But it’s another problem. We were talking about drunk driving, remember?

  • Fact: Dealing with drunk drivers will not decrease the number of people who text and drive. But it won’t increase them either.
  • Fact: Texting while driving is already banned in 46 states, and many municipalities have enacted their own bans. So the problem is not exactly being ignored.
  • Fact: We know a lot about the nature of drunk driving, having studied it for decades. We have much more to learn about distracted driving, so it’s understandable that laws in that area are not as strong yet.
  • Fact: We have technology to defeat drunk driving – ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. This technology is proven. While technological solutions have been proposed and invented for distracted driving, it’s still early days. Some propose disabling cellphones altogether, others want to keep GPS functions but disable communication. Once this is all sorted out, things will move faster.

Discussion, argument, controversy – they get people thinking and spread ideas around so people can judge their value. That’s why free speech is a mainstay of democracy. But with that right comes the obligation to keep the arguments relevant and on track. Distracted driving is a serious problem, but all that means is there are two problems, not one.

So when joining in the drunk driving debate, bring on the ideas.

But leave the red herrings at home.drunk-driving-debate-red-herring-1