America's Drunk Driving Dilemma

An article criticizing MADD made it near the top of Reddit a few days ago. I found it thought provoking.

It reminded me how dysfunctional, unreasonable, and imbalanced Americans are about alcohol use. We have built ourselves a ‘catch 22’ conundrum of which there is no escape until we change our values.

Let me explain the problem.

America has had a problem with drunk driving since Ford perfected the assembly line. I know it is a serious danger because I’ve lost young friends to drunken driving accidents. So what’s the answer? Today we continually increase the severity of the laws, strip away individual rights, and arrest over a million people per year. Is it working? MADD says it is, but critics say it isn’t. It depends on which statistics you wish to believe. I personally believe our current strategy is a failure and we could do better by trying to change the American values that lead to the drunken driving dilemma.

Here is the conundrum of conflicting values:

  1. People shouldn’t drink and drive because it’s public safety hazard – No argument here, except to say that the laws and methods America uses stop drunk driving are becoming increasingly draconian and it’s time we take a look at our entire value system regarding alcohol.
  2. Americans rarely drink at home because they believe only alcoholics drink at home. This is a widespread belief. When I was 17, I naively asked a guy who was sitting next to me at the bar why he paid $4.25 for a shot of Tequila when he could buy an entire liter at the store for $10.00 and drink it at home[1]. “Only alcoholics sit around the house taking shots of Tequila,” He replied. I didn’t understand the logic then and I still don’t. Many casual drinkers believe it is better to take three shots at the bar after work and drive home than it is to take three shots at home. Some of you may argue that Joe Six Pack shouldn’t drink three shots anywhere, and you may be right, but the argument is Pollyannaish. People have always consumed alcohol and they always will.
  3. Few people want a pub within walking distance of home. I’d love to have a pub down the block where I could sit around in the evening, drink a few beers and visit with the neighbors like people do in Europe. Do you know what would happen to me if I tried to open a bar in my neighborhood? People would think I’d gone mad. I’d be the neighborhood pariah. In suburban America, we zone bars in commercial districts far away from residential areas so we can protect children from the evils of alcohol. Applebee’s (one of the biggest restaurant chains in America) tagline is “Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar,” but I’ve never seen one in an actual neighborhood, they are always in some big mall or commercial district next to a Wal-Mart or something.
  4. In most places in America, mass transit is worthless. Post World War Two American development was built around the automobile. In most American cities – most people – cannot get to a pub without a car. I’ve never been a proponent of mass transit in America, but I must concede that a comprehensive mass transit system would significantly reduce drunk driving and it may be cheaper and more effective than our current ‘get tough’ strategy.

The problem in summary – While most Americans believe you shouldn’t drink and drive, they also believe you shouldn’t drink at home, but most of us can’t walk to the pub or take mass transit – yet we still drink. Isn’t it obvious why we have a drinking and driving problem?

I’d like to know what you think about this issue, especially my non-American readers. How does your nation handle the problem?

Australia is a big wide-open country like the US. How do Australians handle this problem?

[1] Please don’t ask me what I was doing in a bar at 17, that’s another blog post

61 thoughts on “America's Drunk Driving Dilemma”

  1. I saw this article and just has to put my input. I agree Americans do have a problem with drinking. The laws are strict as they should be. In most states .08 is the legal drinking limit. I am a small girl so that equals 2 beers in 3 hours; that’s it. I live in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. It is an old coal mining town. I always hear of the Fayette County Drug and Alcohol, the state police out but honestly folks there are those partyers out on the weekends. The problem we have here there is not a taxi or mass transit that runs past 11 p.m. I do not think you should drink and drive you could get a dui, hurt someone, yourself or possibly kill another person. The get tough laws have not done anything. I mean by that is that people need a car to get to a bar and god forbid that their is a bar in the neighborhood, you are correct. I think that if, and they should be, the laws are to tougher on drinking and driving; then give the people an alternative. I know some people worry about their cars but honestly I think more people would take the safe way home with a designated taxi or transit versus running the risk of getting a dui or hurting someone. I know that I will be criticized and told to not drink and drive. The mass amount of people that get dui’s have one or two drinks, they do not feel like they are drunk or impaired however the ones that had too many would think twice about getting behind the wheel of a car if there was an alternate way home.

  2. You have some very good points, if a few generalizations.

    A few other things to consider:

    1.Americans view driving as a right, not a privilege. In Australia, and many European countries, getting your drivers license is much harder, and more expensive than in the US. Many places require the driver to be well over our 15-16 minimum for getting behind the wheel, and have much greater restrictions on young drivers. This means they view it as more of a privilege and aren’t willing to risk loosing their license. American laws, while much tougher aren’t always as absolute as other countries.

    2. Alcohol consumption is treated differently – you made excellent points about how we don’t like to drink at home, but when we look at other countries attitudes, we see an introduction to responsible drinking at an earlier age, the taboo is removed and thus the binge drinking is not needed.

  3. I was stationed in Germany while I was in the Army. Seemingly like most Americans, I had this idea that Europe, with it’s low drinking age and larger consumption, was fast and loose with it’s drinking laws.

    The truth is much different. It costs a German thousands of Euro to get their license, and the penalties for driving under the influence are much steeper.

    If the polizei pull you for suspected DUI, they will do a breathalyser and/or draw blood on the spot, and there is no refusal.

    Germany’s blood alcohol content levels:

    zero for beginners (less than 2 years’ experience and drivers under the age of 21) as well as drivers conducting commercial transportation of passengers

    0.03% in conjunction with any other traffic offence or accident

    0.05% without evidence of alcoholic impact

    0.11% => driver licence withdrawed for about one year

    0.16% => regranting of the licence resumes a successful medical-psychological driver assessment

    Given the success Germany has had with curtailing DUI, I’m not sure I can view American laws as ‘draconian’

    However I do agree that urban sprawl and lack of mass transit in America does greatly contribute to the drinking and driving in the country.

  4. Drunk And Driving In America And Why It Continues.

    Many factors contribute to why drunk driving continues in America and elsewhere. The crime drunk driving is not taken seriously and its penalties are sometimes just a slap on the wrist. We use rehabilitation on drunk drivers to little or no effect and we retrain drunk drivers also and give them back their privilege to drive. We also see these results of the repeat offender in our daily news and newspapers throughout the United States. A repeat offender kills a family of 5, a repeat offender kills his fiancé found drunk behind the wheel again. And the lists go on. Many states also endorsed what is called a Dram Shop Act and the act simply states that if a bar tender or anyone gives another drink to a person that they know is already drunk that the bar tender and establishment is held accountable. The Dram Shop Act also includes stadiums on semi pro and pro games such as baseball, hockey, basketball and any game that sells alcohol. How good is the Dram Shop Act? Try finding witnesses after a drunk driver took your family member’s life. Try investigating a bar or bar tender to see if he or she actually gave that person another drink knowing that person was already drunk. No, the Dram Shop Act was passed without any funding or support or even the enforcement to back it up. We do sting operations on underage sale of cigarettes to minors; we do sting operations on internet predators. But for the Dram Shop Act there is nothing and probably never will be. We do not tread on the drunk drivers rights that would be unconstitutional. But still in all what about the rights of the many innocent people that this drunk driver and the person that gave this drunk driver excessive amounts of alcohol and now is standing over your dead family member. A murder is a murder my own father would say and no matter what you do you just simply can not bring that person or living thing back. And yet this murder is acceptable in today’s society. The drunk driver is a commodity and the crimes that the drunk driver commits bring in a vast amount of revenue to the states and also to the organizations that are suppose to introduce laws to stop drunk driving. They support companies that hire a work force to make interlock systems and monitoring bracelets and the many scientific remedies to stop the drunk driver they say. How well is this working? If we do not remove a driver’s license permanently or confiscate the tool of the crime such as the vehicle that crime will continue. If we do not hold bars and bar tenders and vendors that sell alcohol at games accountable that crime will continue. I ‘am not opposed to anyone having a few drinks, but I ‘am opposed at this person that is drunk and now is behind a wheel of a vehicle, and the persons that put him there in the first place. The issue is not on why agencies and television and broadcasts advertise heavily on alcohol ads and how much money is spent airing these ads and the loss of sales if these ads discontinue. Prohibition taught us many things and we certainly do not want that back again and organized crime is still alive and well in America as throughout the world today. We already have seen what did and did not happen to the cigarette industry and also the money from the many lawsuits against this industry on which all these states received. What was the money spent on from these suits? What is the vast and excessive amount of taxes put on cigarettes used for? Cures for cancer? People that lost loved ones to lung cancer? We also have seen devastating results from alcohol use on a recent case and this was not even drunk driving and reported throughout the year. The missing Holloway woman and really what will the end and final judgment be for Van Sloot. That will be left up to his peers and also on what he will confess to. How much pressure is put on your Representatives and Senator’s by the alcohol industry? How much pressure is put on sports and news and any broadcasting agency? I have all the answers that I could possibly need or even want from many people. They are from ordinary people that lost loved ones, politicians who state that it is a major concern but do not want to step forward or introduce anything. News agencies that simply shrug off any conception about alcohol and yes newspapers and magazines. Investigative reporting starts with a news agency and that is what investigative reporting is. My hope is to not let another family or loved one lose their life whether if he or she was drunk or just another innocent person die by the hands of another drunk driver such as my only grand-daughter did.

  5. Do you guys here yourselves? I know that I maybe baised in the fact considering my boyfriend died in a drinking and driving acident ,but what really is the point in drinking. Growing up for me I was never really allowed to drink but then it was never discouraged either. I have lost so many friends to drinking and driving,yet people still drink and drive. Having a soft drink if you wish to call it does not make anyone any less of a man, just a smater one. What is it about having a beer or wine that makes it so much better than anything else? Many of my friends
    would tell me that it is just a few drinks nothing too serious, until they are in jail or in the hospital. The problem with drinking and driving in America I believe is the simple fact that most people do not take it seriously enough. The commericials and ads on television glamour it all up. Because a person hears either on the radio or news daily about some tragic death due to drinking and driving it loses the effect it meant to have.People just flat out don’t care anymore about anyone other than themselves. People don’t think about how their drinking and then driving could effect someone else’s life.Many people have this notion that it wouldn’t happen to them the last guys was just stupid for drinking and driving. Statistics show that a person is more likely to hurt themselves, kill themselves, hurt someone or kill someone before they ever get arrested for DUI OR DWI.How much is a life worth 4 Samuel Adams., 1 bottle of tequila, 6 Miller light, or 12 shots of gin.If a person can go out and get a six-pack then they also can go out and get a two-litter bottle of soda. People in america seem to have a reason for everytime they drink, which seems silly to me. My grandparents in Britian only drink on occasions and special holidays.One way to make the streets safer in America I think is to really crack down on the DUI AND DWI laws don’t take any excusses from people, hit the clubs hard. Don’t glamourize drinking and driving on t.v and make sure that acholic beverages stay out of the hands of minors. Parents need to step up and starting doing their jobs as parents. Not to say that every parent is bad and is not doing their job. Talk to your kids give them another alternative besides drinking, because they will have those temptations to want to drink. Parents be a good example for your children, nieces,nephews, grandchildren any kids you come in contact with really . If you as an authorithy firgure is not upholding the law what makes you think that youger kids will. I know that no matter what I say someone will still drink and drive. I am praticularly not for drinking at all that is just my opinion and belief. The Bible says what soever ye eat or drink do it all to the glory of God. I would not want God to be in a car with me after I had had few drinks.Inevitably the solution to America’s drinking and driving begins in each and every one of us. We have to make the decision to not drink and drive and if you think that you or a friend is too impaired to drive get someone else to drive. We have to remember that life is not guaranteed and that there are other people with wife, kids, brothers, sisetsr out there on the roads. The American people needs stop thinking about themsleves for a second and actually think about somebody else for a change. Drinking abd driving never really hits homes until it catually happens to one of us. Sad to say but for some people they are going to have to realize the dangers of DUI OR DWI personally, maybe the lost of a friend or family memeber. I try to live my life according to Jesus Christ I know he wouldn’t drink and drive so I do not period. Everybody has their own standards and that is totally fine. What I have written is my own opinion and in no way do I mean to dog anyone for their beliefs. When I was at youth camp my youth pastor said something to me that will always stick out, he said the things that we do in life if we were to oraganized them into two categories things I am most proud of and things I wish to forget on which side will most of our life go. That really made me think about my life and how I spending it. The same can be asked of anybody which side will most of your life go on?

  6. I hate the idea of drinking and driving. However Phoenix and Scottsdale do have similar issues to which you stated above. The mass transit system here is almost non-existent, and getting a cab is difficult at time.

    The Phoenix Valley is also a case of massive Urban sprawl, so people commute into drink and party with their friends. It would be 100s of dollars a night in cab fare.

    Though I’ll stipulate these are not excuses, just a realization of some contributing factors in the amount of drunk drivers here.

  7. The pub or corner/neighorhood bar is not a throwback… if you go to philadelphia every neighorhood has a couple corner bars…the clubs and upscale places are downtown more for people in the suburbs… went to boston to watch the flyers to a neighorhood called southie and it reminded me so much of home except nicer… These neighorhoods with these bars the drinking age is usually a lot lower than 21 they just regulate it themselves…if youre not a troublemaker you can drink down the end its not a big learn how to act bc mostly when youre 14 15 16 you go in with your dad or uncle or grandpop and you know everyone in there because its your neighorhood…in my case its 100 percent irish and there is plenty of binge drinking but the point is you learn how to interact and not be stupid unl;ike kids from the suburbs going downtown on a fake I.D. acting like an ass who his parents dont know he drinks so he never learned how to act

  8. Steve you made the comment, that bikers were drunken fighters.I have been riding for 40 years and have never been in a fight with a biker.There are 1%ers. But the majority are very nice people. If you were a biker you would know the truth.I have yet to meet an ass hole in biking.Yes they stand for something. And you allways know where they stand and you do not cross that line and you have know problem.

  9. I lived in Spain for many years. In every neigborhood there are at least ten mom & pop bars within walking distance. Bars there however are looked at as family gathering places…kids and all. Every family has their favorite. Almost 100% of bars in Spain serve food (and not just bags of chips and pickled pigs feet). Best food you’ll ever eat in Spain is served in bars. Bars are very much a central part of Spanish culture. And I can honestly say I’ve never seen a truly drunk Spaniard. Not because they’re raging closet alcoholics, quite the opposite. In the course of a long evening someone might have 3 to 4 drinks max. My wife (who is Spanish) can milk one drink all night long. Can’t say the same about we Americans.

  10. My name is Engin Agac and I am from Turkey. I learned that many companies have developed a device that prevents drunk driving. The devices look like significant but I still believe that this is not a final solution for the problem. I have prepared a project about this subject. I believe that the project that I prepared provides 100% solution.

    The important points of my project are shown below:


    1) The drunk driver can never start the car as he cannot pass the alcohol test.

    2) The device can detect the difference when the non-drunk driver changes place with a drunk driver.

    3) If the driver starts the car and begins drinking alcoholic beverages the device detects this.

    4) The driver is kept under control automatically and during every stop and run.

    5) The driver should take and pass the alcohol test every day.

    6) If the driver should be changed then the new driver should pass the alcohol test.,

    7) If any other person except the driver drinks alcoholic beverages, this will not stop the car or will not prevent the driver from starting the engine.

    8) In case the driver “must” start the car even though he is drunk, he should define himself as “drunk” to the device. The device will not question if the driver is drunk or not in this situation. By this way the device sets a maximum speed limit and the flashers are turned on. If the driver tries to exceed the speed limit the car stops and the lights continue flashing.

    Detailed Explanations for some articles above:

    Article 2) If the non-drunk driver changes place with a drunk driver then the device will detect this. For example Robert is drunk and Matthias is sober. In this situation only Matthias can start the car and Robert cannot pass the test. If Robert wants to drive while the engine is running, the device will detect that it was Matthias who started the car and will not let Robert to drive. The device will recognize that Robert has changed place and came to the driver seat. In this situation it asks the test to be taken by the new driver. If he cannot pass the test, then the car will be stopped after the warnings.

    Article 3) Example: Robert is not drunk until he starts the car but he starts drinking while driving. At this point the device will detect the smell and ask the driver to take the test again. If the driver is drunk, then the car will stop after the warnings.

    Article 4) The driver who started the engine is always under control as he should take the test at every stop and run. The device checks the driver change at every stop and run, while the car is started. If one driver passes the test and start the car, and if he wants to change the seat to someone else after a while, the device checks if someone else has come to the driver seat. This control will be done at every stop and run. But if it is requested, this can be applied at certain time periods through the settings of the device.

    Article 5) In this project the driver must take the alcohol test every day.

    But if we develop the software we can achieve something like this:

    1) If a driver never drinks alcohol and a driver change will never be done, the driver may take the test only once a year, once in ten years or he may not take the test during his whole lifetime. This driver needs to take the test only once. But this article makes it necessary for the driver to take the test if someone else but the driver drinks alcohol in the vehicle.

    2) Let’s think of a family consisting of father, mother, two sons and one daughter. One of the sons drink alcohol frequently but the other drinks only on new years. Father, mother and the daughter never drink alcohol and this family owns a car. How does the device works in this case? Should the alcohol test be taken every day? No, it is not. The device can recognize the members of the family. This means that the device cen keep in its memory who is a drinker and who is a non-drinker. The device can also detect that the person who did not drink alcohol for a long time is now drunk and it notifies the driver that the test should be taken. Thanks to the software that has been developed, father-mother and the daughter should take the test only once and they do not need to take the test again during their lifetime. While the father, mother or the daughter drives the car, someone else in the vehicle should not drink alcoholic beverages. Otherwise they need to take the alcohol test. This situation does not prevent the car from running or does not stop the running car.

    Article 6) A driver change can only be done when the engine is stopped. The new driver should pass the test before starting the car. The driver change cannot be applied after the engine is started.

    Article 7) Let’s say there are 4 people in the car (One driver and three passengers). The driver is sober and did not drink any alcoholic beverages. Even though the passengers are drinking, the alcohol smell will not prevent the car from starting nor the engine will not be stopped.

    – For the car to be stopped:
    * As the alcohol smell is detected, the driver is asked to take the test.
    ** The driver must take this test. Otherwise the car speed will be decreased and it will be stopped after the warnings.
    *** If the driver is drunk as he takes the test, the car speed will be decreased and it will be stopped after the warnings again.
    **** The device always warns the driver before stopping the car. If the driver denies the warnings then the car will be stopped.

    The software scheme of this device is already prepared. Alcoholmeter and smell sensors are the components of this device. But the important point is that a software to achieve these functions. As the scheme is already done, the software needs to be written by your company.


    To prevent driving without driving license can be achieved only if the driver licenses are renewed so that it can interact with the device that is to be installed in the car.

    1) A person without the driving license can never start the car.

    2) A person without the driving license can never drive a car in motion.

    3) If the driver wants to change place with another driver without a license, this will be detected by the device and the car will be stopped if the warning is ignored.

    4) The driver will be kept under control every second and he can never drive the car without the license.

    5) The driver should take the driving license test once a day.

    6) One driver can never use someone else’s license.

    7) If a driver change is needed, then the new driver should take the test.

    8) At every getting on and off a control is not applied. The test is only applied in case of a driver change.

    As you know I am not a mechanical technician or engineer and I cannot explain the details of my project by using scientific terms. But I can describe all details of my project.

    Although alcoholmeter and smell sensors will be used in this project, not only these two devices will be functioning. The most important characteristic that differs my project from the others is that this device will be software assisted. I mean each article describing the features of the project will be assisted by a software.

    My aim is to offer you the patent of this project to your company. If you are interested you can also contact me online, by phone or come to Istanbul and I can explain this project to you personally.

    Detailed explanation and software schemes for both projects are available.

    I will be expecting your soonest reply if you are interested in my projects.

    Kind Regards,
    Engin AGAC

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