Drunk Driving in Iowa

drunk_drivingHere’s another article which has nothing to do with truck safety, and especially truck regulations. As I have stated previously, I have concluded that trucking safety is but a small subset of overall highway safety, and it’s pointless to focus on trucking safety without considering how to improve overall highway safety.

The Des Moines Register is currently running a very good series about drunk driving deaths in Iowa. I have long believed one of the ways to reduce highway death is through publicity. For the most part, Americans have historically tolerated people being killed on the road. However, continuing to discuss the issue may make people question why we tolerate it. The Des Moines Register is doing their part.

They have totaled up the people killed in drunk driving accidents for 2016, and examined the individual cases. This is somewhat similar to my own examination of highway deaths, where I looked at the random day of May 26, 2014, and all the people killed on that day.

Three of their key findings are:
-At least 82 people were killed by drunk drivers in Iowa in 2016. That number will go higher, as there are still some fatal accidents where the toxicology reports have not been completed.

-The average BAC of the drunks in the 2016 Iowa drunk fatalities was .176. This mirrors what I found, where the average was .19.

-40% of the drunks who killed themselves or someone else had a previous OWI conviction. I did not know this, but I did suspect it. I assume OWI means Operating While Intoxicated. I am more familiar with DUI, Driving Under the Influence, but apparently Iowa uses the term OWI. I think OWI and DUI are synonymous.

They are also examining some of the issues surrounding drunk deaths, such as drunks being arrested multiple times, yet never being incarcerated for very long. Also, they discuss some possible steps which could be taken to prevent DUI deaths, such as the 24/7 sobriety program, and ignition interlocks.

One issue they haven’t gotten to yet, but will soon, I imagine, is why drunks are never incarcerated very long. Every time I see this issue discussed anywhere, the prosecutors and judges essentially say, “we don’t have enough money to lock them up”. While we may not like the answer, it is a real-world answer. After all jails cost money, prison guards cost money, prosecutors cost money. As a libertarian, I can tell you the government already gets way too much of my money already. So, if there’s no more money available to tackle drunk driving, what’s to be done?

For starters, a smarter allocation of resources. Focus on the drunks killing people. Focus on the ones with BAC of .15 or more. For the most part, drivers with BACs of .08 – .15 are not the ones killing people. It’s the ones at .15 or more. Spend money on them.

For example, NHTSA’s “Don’t Drive Drunk” ad campaign does not focus on these drivers. The .15 drivers are hardcore addicts and drunks. No advertising campaign is going to reach them. I think that’s pretty clear. As the Des Moines Register points out, 40% of the drunks who killed someone in 2016 had been previously arrested. If you’ve been arrested for something, and yet still go out and do it again, is a TV ad campaign really going to change your behavior? I think not.

MADD’s solution of choice are ignition interlock laws. Meh. I am lukewarm on interlock laws. I guess it would depend on how it’s administered. For example, here in PA, we have a new interlock law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an interlock device must be installed for all vehicles owned by the drunk for at least a year following license reinstatement for 2nd offenses. It may be required by the judge for first offenses.

That’s pretty weak. For one thing, it must done upon license reinstatement? I really, really hope the legislators don’t really think that taking a drunk’s license does anything. These are addicts. All driving without a license does is threaten the drunk with more jail time. It’s less actually, than the actual offense of driving drunk. If the threat of being locked up for months for DUI doesn’t motivate a drunk, being locked up for weeks certainly is not going to motivate a drunk. Drunks are going to drive, license or no license.

Furthermore, how is it monitored? I guess the government checks to see the drunk has the device installed on his vehicle, but then what happens? How do they know he hasn’t disabled it? Does the thing send out a GPS signal if it’s been tampered with? What if the drunk buys a new car? Are the State’s computers looking for that? Or, what if he rents or borrows a car?

The interlock laws have been around for a good number of years. They should be effecting a drop in drunk fatalities by now. I am not sure they are. That’s probably something that could be determined, simply by analyzing the number of drunk driving deaths in the States which have strong interlock laws. Comparing the deaths before and after the interlock laws should give you the answer. Maybe I’ll play around with that, time permitting.

Personally, I like the 24/7 program, which compared to the interlock laws, is relatively new. This was introduced by South Dakota in 2005. Essentially, the program keeps the drunk locked up, unless he has either a) completed his sentence, or b) agrees to participate in the 24/7 alcohol testing program.

The program requires the drunk to blow into a breathalyzer machine at the courthouse or police station twice a day, about 12 hours apart. Anything other than a 0.00 reading sends the drunk back to jail, or before the judge to determine punishment. The ultimate punishment a judge could mete out is revocation of the bail, work release, or parole, and trip back to jail to complete the sentence.

The best I could determine, there are four (4) states presently using the 24/7 program on a full-time basis: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming. A study by the RAND think-tank in 2013 credited South Dakota’s 24/7 program with reducing repeat drunk-driving arrests by 12%. Frankly, that’s not that exciting, but it’s a start.

I like the concept of the program. Drunks serve a fraction of their sentences. They always have, and likely always will. There is simply not enough jail space and money to keep the everyone convicted locked up. Judges and prosecutors know this, so after a short amount of time, they kick the drunks loose. Their reasoning is the drunks are not really dangerous, especially when compared to the other prisoners who are murders, rapists, robbers, burglars, drug dealers, and other violent felons.

Their reasoning is faulty. The drunks are dangerous. Very dangerous. I argue in many cases, they are more dangerous than burglars, robbers, drug dealers, and rapists. The hardcore drunks, the ones with BAC’s of .15 or more are addicts. They are Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes. When sober, they’re like anyone else. Get a bunch of drinks in them, and they’re violent, dangerous criminals. Go ahead, take a look at the pictures of the smashed up cars in the Des Moines Register expose if you think they’re not violent. You’re goddamn right they’re violent.

They are not evil people. They are, however, weak people. They can’t help themselves. They simply cannot put that booze down, at least not for very long. These are the kind of people society should keep locked up, just like all the other dangerous people, for our own safety. Or take away Dr. Jekyll’s dangerous potion, which turns him into a monster. Take that away, and we can let Dr. Jekyll roam safely among us. We can even let him have a license, have a job, drive a car, have a life. He has to be sober, though. That is society’s price for letting Dr. Jekyll out of his cage.

I may post more on drunk driving later. I definitely would like to know that answer on how effective the interlock and 24/7 laws have been. I may research that, and revisit this topic later. At any rate, I encourage all to check out the articles in the Des Moines Register.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *