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:
- 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.
- 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. “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.
- 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.
- 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?
 Please don’t ask me what I was doing in a bar at 17, that’s another blog post