No Alcohol Sales to Tennessee DUI Offenders? Could Happen.

alcohol-ban-tennessee-dui-offendersLegislators in Tennessee are grappling with the state’s drunk driving problem. In particular, they’re deciding if a judge should be able to ban Tennessee DUI offenders from buying alcohol.

There’s nothing simple about this debate: it touches economics and civil liberties as well as matters of public safety. This complexity explains why the bill has undergone changes right from the beginning.

HB1698 as it was originally written, “requires that person convicted of DUI forfeit privilege to purchase alcohol for period of time based upon prior DUI convictions with lifetime forfeiture for third conviction.”

The lifetime ban was removed. Also scotched (pun intended) was a provision to punish a seller who knowingly sells alcohol to an offender who has the prohibition in place.

Does Banning Alcohol Sales Prevent DUI?

The question is: why prevent alcohol sales at all? Drinking is not against the law – drinking and driving is. There are those who say that, DUI or not, people should be allowed to drink in their home as long as they don’t endanger others.

The counter-argument is that these people have shown bad judgement already. As alcohol is a notorious factor in bad decisions, a person who drinks is more likely to make the decision to drink and drive. It’s the paradoxical nature of ethanol that the very thing that makes you a danger on the road also makes you unable to see that you’re a danger on the road.

Steady As She Goes

Tennessee is not doing too badly in the fight against drunk driving. While fatal crashes in general have gone up slightly in the last year, the percentage of those fatalities due to alcohol has gone down. Part of the reason for the decline is the state’s 2013 ignition interlock law, which mandates the devices for all drunk driving offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Restrictions on the sale of alcohol have a tendency to lower the number of alcohol-related fatalities in a given jurisdiction. So if HB1698 is adopted in some form, the state will benefit. Other measures Tennessee should consider are

  • An indigent fund to subsidize Tennessee DUI offenders who can’t pay for ignition interlocks
  • Administrative (automatic) license revocation for those arrested for DUI

A tip of the hat to Representative Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, and Senator Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who sponsored the measure, and who are clearly on the side of Tennessee’s drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, who deserve to be kept from harm.