Ban Stubborn Repeat Drunk Drivers from Buying Alcohol: Is That Really the Answer?

Repeat drunk drivers are a severe problem on the roads. It’s important to note that they are not the only problem drinkers on the road, despite what the restaurant lobby would have us believe. But they do constitute a menace. Despite fines, jail time, counseling, and even license revocation, a certain percentage of offenders will not stop driving while impaired.

ban-liquor-sales-for-repeat-duis.Tennessee State Rep. John Holsclaw has had enough of repeat drunk drivers, and has proposed a solution: ban stores from selling them alcohol. Anyone convicted of a third DUI would have a notice placed on his or her driver’s license reading, “No Alcohol Sales.”

The idea is that someone “should have learned” after three drunk driving convictions. A similar bill was discussed last January in Oklahoma.

The problem is, it’s the wrong solution. And worse, it replaces the right solution, which exists now in Tennessee and elsewhere.

It is not against the law to drink, or even to get drunk, in one’s own home. It’s against the law to drive drunk, and that’s what the law should concentrate on. Instead of banning alcohol sales, which will probably have little effect – underage teens can find ways to obtain alcohol, so adults will have no problem – the state should strengthen its ignition interlock law. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

It would be entirely reasonable to order an ignition interlock be installed in an offender’s vehicle for 10 years after three DUIs. The drinker would not be able to drive, which protects both the alcoholic and the public from alcohol-related crashes.

This proposal puts the onus on tens of thousands of vendors instead of a few thousand hard-core drinkers. Grocery store clerks will have to check the driver’s licenses of every person, no matter how old they are, when he or she buys a beer, or risk being in non-compliance.

It is not the business of convenience stores to police the roads. Almost every state already has an ignition interlock program that could be expanded with much less trouble and expense. Moreover, the offender pays for the interlock.

Representative Holsclaw’s impatience with repeat drunk drivers is understandable. But his proposal is at once too sweeping and not effective.  Tennessee – and other states – should use the tools they already have to keep drunk drivers off the road. Rather than an unproved, over-ambitious measure, the state should expand its ignition interlock program. Such programs have already been proven successful.