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. You’re right about America having a problem. I know many people, my age and younger, who make this deadly mistake, and I’ve been guilty of it myself.

    I think the overarching problem that leads to drunk driving, or more accurately to VERY drunk driving, is the lack of moderation. Americans drink to get drunk, not to socialize. In Europe this summer my friends and I proved this by astounding the locals and fellow travelers with the quantity of alcohol we consumed. For us it was normal.

  2. You missed one: The consumption of alcohol is considered a *necessary* aspect of adult socialization — people look at you funny if you order a soft drink or tea instead of booze. Non-alcoholic drinks, with the possible exception of coffee, are considered kid stuff. Plus with guys there’s the testosterone thing: the more booze you can drink, the more of a Manly Man you are.

    (And let’s not forget Dorothy Parker’s observation: “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” But that gets into an entirely different area of social values…)

    Also, it’s not so much “drinking at home” that is seen as the province of alcoholics, but “drinking alone”. I’ll bet if you had asked that guy if he’d buy a bottle of tequila to have on hand at a Super Bowl party, he’d have said, “Of course!” So here you have two assumptions creating a feedback loop: alcohol is necessary for socializing, and socializing is necessary for alcohol.

    Houston is a little different from most American cities in that we don’t have zoning laws, so we do still have the equivalent of the neighborhood pub in the middle of a residential area. Here it’s called an “ice house” — they don’t sell booze, you bring your own, but they provide ice and mixers. It’s almost impossible to drive down a residential street in a working-class neighborhood without seeing one.

    So why do we still have the same problem with drunk drivers as everyone else? Because (1) the ice house *is* strictly a working-class phenomenon, while the middle and upper classes continue to drive to clubs, and (2) the set of factors outlined above still holds.

    IMO what we really need to do is uncouple the concepts of “drinking” and “adulthood”. And that’s going to take generations, plus a level of awareness and commitment that many people are either unable or unwilling to reach.

  3. I agree with you. I happen to live in a wonderful neighborhood called Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn in New York City. After work I like have some drinks and chat with the neighbors then easily walk home. New York City is great in that you dont have to own a car at all. Mass transit will take you anywhere. Commercial and residential are mixed. I realize most people do not live in places like these but coming from someone who does your thoughts are right on.

  4. Celine,
    You make GREAT points. You make a great distinction about “drinking at home” vs. “drinking alone.” The Super Bowl party is yet another funtion you’d drive to. Uncoupling the drinking and adulthood concepts is critical to finding a solution.

    What you say surpises me. I thought Europeans and Australians drank more per capita than Americans? Is that Europeans drink less more often and Americans drink mass quantities on binges? I read that alcohol consumption in the UK is nearly twice that of the US but they have 50% fewer alcohol related traffic fatalities. I’ve also read that alcohol consuption in Germany is even higher than the UK and they have yet fewer problems with drunk driving. Can anyone confirm this?

  5. I think what is meant by “only alcoholics drink at home” is that drinking is perceived as more of a social activity. So drinking at home alone = alcoholic. Drinking at home with guests = party.

  6. In 2016, the leading edge of the baby boomers will turn 70. Around that time, a bunch of people will realize that sometime in the near future, they may have to give up driving. If they want to continue to live in their suburban homes, they’re going to have a lot more problems than just getting out to bars.

    I predict a major investment in infrastructure for one of these:

    * mass transit that serves the suburbs adequately
    * cars that can drive themselves – control AI + roadway sensors

  7. I live in a midwestern college town. For years college kids have gone downtown and partyed…mostly to meet the other sex. So over the last 25 yrs the city has passed stronger and stronger anti drinking laws. Now cops walk threw the bars busting college kids for drinkin under age…they also hire extra cops to work at closing time and just lay in wait for people to leave and it makes the city a KILLING in revenue. They also passed a law you cannot leave a vehicle downtown overnight…so you have to drive it home or get it towed. I have asked the bar owners why they don’t get a shuttle bus for their patrons and they all say the insurance is way to high.
    Everyone I know who liked to party already has a DWI or 2 and have quit going downtown and it has hurt the bars and the local bands (we use to have a heathy multiple band presence here).

    So the war aginst drunk drivers is a money maker for my city…they do not care about making the streets safer…they care about the steady court income. Common sense would be to allow cars to stay overnight, have a city shuttle and leave the kids college alone with their partying.

  8. I used to live in Chicago (early 90’s) and would often go to the local corner pub. Have a few and then walk home. It was perfect. It was a mom and pop affair. I’m sure it’s gone now. For at least two reasons: 1. Corporate america loves to underprice the competition and 2. How can someone young afford to run the business and have health care, etc? This pub was a throwback to the original immigrants from Poland and Germany. In modern day USA you would never have the ability to open a local pub, becuase we must “protect” our children.

    The scariest thing we are coming to fast is a zero blood alcohol level. Where every pull over will result in an automatic breathalyzer test. So have fun with alcohol based cough syrups and mouth wash. “uh officer I wasn’t drinking I was just on my way to work” “yeah right, tell it to the judge…drunkee”

    Isn’t America the best place on the planet? Makes for great marketing.

  9. What is worse is the drinking age. Between ages of 17 and 21 you are living in secrecy and forced to drink and drive because you are an outcast from your home. This is a deadly combination and the fools that run this country only have themselves to blame for the thousands of tragic deaths that occur. Luckily growing up we had intelligent liberal parents that gave us a safe place to “party”. Most kids are not nearly so lucky as we were.

  10. I live in a fairly large town in Southern Colorado. Moved here a couple years ago from a fairly large town in Northern Colorado. Where I’m at now, there’s an entirely different attitude about drinking. This town allegedly once held the dubious distinction of having “more barstools per capita” than any other town in America, and there are true neighborhood bars still scattered across this town. They have street dances here in the summer where you can not only buy a cup of beer or wine, but even a mixed drink. The cops in the town up north would be having fits and plotting to tear gas the whole crowd. The cops here seem to have the attitude that there’s more important things to worry about. I don’t think there are more drunk drivers here than where I came from, but I DO think there were a whole lot more high school kids up north who drank, drove and wrapped cars around trees than here.

    I was born in Montana, and went to small-town bars up there with my parents and grandparents when I was just 15 years old. It was a more family oriented activity up there and back then. I tell people that now, and they give me a horrified look. I lived in Wyoming for many years, and it was quite common to go for a drink, and find yourself bellied up to the bar right next to the mayor. I’m sure that, too, would garner some horrified looks from the more “gentrified” folks among us.

  11. Two points:

    To John Wesley: continental Europeans might be amazed at American alcohol capacities, but most Brits think Americans can’t take their booze. And the Irish think the Brits are low-intake. A Brit will go out for “a pint or two” (meaning about 4). An Irishman will have 5 or 6 pints (20oz each) watching the footie in the pub, and not think anything of it.

    Secondly, in the UK the attitude is different: at home I’ll happily drink 5 or 6 pints — or a bottle of wine and a large brandy — if the mood takes me. If I’ve got to drive home, it’s a one drink limit for me. Drink driving kills people. Drinking at home might kill me, but not for another 30 years at least.

  12. Hi, I’m an Australian and I like to drink. Over here we have things called “taxis” and you can use them to get to and from home. On a more serious note, the Australian government has been very tough on drink driving for a very long time. We’ve had some of the most graphic ads on TV of anywhere in the world. Most Americans are shocked by them when they first arrive here. The legal blood alcohol limit here is 0.05 and there is quite a bit of education regarding the number of drinks you can have per hour to stay under this limit.

    I live on a border town (between NSW and Victoria) and we have frequently large drink driving blitzes here. At one point, they stopped and breath tested in excess of 5000 people and only book 12 for low range drink driving offenses, so while there are a few people still being stupid, there are many more who are being smart about their drinking. Generally you find that a group of mates will designate one person as the driver. They have free soft drinks all night – paid for by their drinking friends.

    Many of the pubs and clubs here have courtesy buses. If you are a member, the trip home is free. If not, I think it costs less than $5. Although I made that crack about the taxis earlier, it can be very hard to find one late at night on Friday and Saturday here, so the local council runs a special bus for a couple of hours. The town I live in sprawls over the landscape and is certainly not centralised so these measures are necessary. If you give people an alternative to driving then they seem to take it.

  13. I live in Australia. I don’t know if our drink driving rates are lower than yours, but from the sounds of it drink driving is tolerated more there than here. In Australia your friends will basically dump you if they know you do it, because of the risk you pose to everyone else on the road. Maybe we take driving more serious here. Also, in the cities we have good bus and train networks and after a night on the tiles the thing to do is take a taxi home.

  14. I live in Cambridge, MA and there are four bars in my neighborhood, plus a microbrewery, plus a large selection of restaurants. All within about five minutes walk. So yes, it is still possible to find such things in the US.

    Now that I’ve gotten used to living in a walkable place, the thought of moving to the typical suburb is really unappealing. I guess its a matter of taste, but I don’t see why people put up with it.

    Small towns are nice. Cities are nice. Suburbs are just awkwardly placed in the middle.

  15. I think the main difference is the age you start drinking at. In Europe you start drinking at 14, 15, 16. You get wasted and mindlessly binge drink with friends in parks and so on. By the time you’re 18 you’ve got over that and you’re having a couple of pints with friends in a pub and taking a taxi home.

    Americans that I’ve met (not a representative bunch, perhaps?), had a pretty immature attitude to drinking, very reminiscent of when I was a kid. Lots of chugging and shots and drinking games. Like someone already said, ‘drinking to get drunk’. Maybe if the age limit for drinking wasn’t so insanely high in the US people would have a chance to master their drinking before becoming adults.

  16. you forgot to mention about the trendy bars and clubs, a lot of people live hours away from the cool places to go, as this places are far away, this people usually get trashed and act stupid because nobody knows them.
    I’ve seen that sort of behavior with lots of people in Miami, people coming over from other cities in florida like orlando, west palm beach, etc etc. just to party with “cool” people and go back home.

  17. I agree with much of what was said.

    I’m a Canadian and I’ve had the unique advantage of living in both Germany and Canada – I think that gave me a good prespective on this topic.

    If you want to reduce drinking and driving (and reduce enviromental damage, preserve green space, create a nicer living enviroment, etc) we need to get rid of the “Suburb”.

    Improving public transit, growing cities up, not out, lowering the drinking age for beer and wine, increasing alcohol taxes, increasing gas taxes, making it harder to get a drivers license (an expensive, intensive course is required in Germany), legalizing pot, better zoning, better social programs for alcoholics … creating an enviroment were one doesn’t need/want to commit a crime is far better then retroactive punishment.

    Why will lowering the drinking age for beer and wine help? This way our teenagers can learn to drink in an open responsible way. If your first exposer to alcohol is illegal, drinking underage … well, you already broke that rule, why not break that other rule too.

    Why legalize pot? I just threw that one in there, it’s off topic … but I think the War on Dugs is a cancer eating at the heart of Canada’s southern neighbour; it’s horrific. (And we’d completely legalize it here in Canada if it wasn’t for you guys.) fyi … I don’t smoke the stuff myself.

  18. Drunk driving is a problem for all the reasons you stated plus the huge alcohol industry with huge advertising budgets. Also, in spite of the arrests the courts seem to want to make it as comfortable for the drunks as possible. Usually here where I live in the Pacific Northwest only 1 day is served out of a possible 365 and the fine is lowered from a possible 5 grand to 1k or less in most cases. The courts are sending the message that it’s ok to drink and drive. Then there is the abuse of the deferred prosecution angle. I would agree that we in the U.S. haven’t really gotten serious about this serious issue.

  19. Some posters have wondered how countries compare to each other in terms of propensity to drink.

    Per capita alcohol consumption in 2003 (L)

    Australia AUS 9.0
    Canada CAN 7.8
    France FRA 11.4
    Germany DEU 12.0
    Ireland IRL 13.7
    Japan JPN 7.6
    Netherlands NLD 9.7
    United Kingdom GBR 11.8
    United States USA 8.6

    from here

  20. I agree with the comments that the problem starts with the drinking age. I believe this certainly seeds the drunk driving mentality in many (pure opinion, nothing to support). Kids can drive before they can legally drink and, as statistics speak, a significant number of those newly licensed drivers are going to be drinking at a friend’s house while the parents are out.

    We live around a clouded mentality where parents aren’t supposed to be talking to their kids about drinking responsibly because the social edicts mandate the only way for the kiddos to be responsibly drinking at that age is not at all.

    So kids go out, get drunk and drive home because they aren’t allowed to phone home and say they’ll be staying the night or ask for a ride b/c they’re not supposed to be drinking in the first place. The kids are compelled to keep their drinking a secret.

    In another aspect, public transit does make a difference — well for me anyway. I am lucky enough live in an area of town where it is very convenient and cost effective to take a bus downtown and have a $10 cab ride back. Hell, I even have a neighborhood bar within 15-minute walking distance (maybe 25 on the way back) — and it’s not the ghetto! As the blog points out my situation is the exception.

    In the end though I don’t think MADD’s mad tactics are not going to solve the problem but will proceed to hurt otherwise good people’s lives that much more. Taking away liberty & money is certainly not putting an end to the problem. I am in the camp that believes the gains stated by MADD are inflated. Alas, I don’t have the answer, if I did I’d be voicing my opinions outside of just a blog comment.

  21. I’m in Adelaide, Australia (one of the smaller cities) and our public transport system leaves a fair bit to be desired too (I understand the bigger cities do better in this regard.) Taxis are the thing here and there’s often large queues in front of night time hot spots. There is also a ‘direct to front door’ bus service which runs on the weekends (we’re a small enough city that the weekends are the action nights for most people.

    Everything Matt said about Australia is spot on – we have shock TV ads campaign which teach us to equate drink driving with either getting caught and having no transport for a long time or death/maiming of ourselves or others (and the related guilt if it’s not you). It’s not okay to drink drive here and the idea of the ‘designated driver’ is popular. (I actually just don’t drink alcohol very often due to some sort of allergic reactiong I seem to have and sometimes I’ll order a soft drink at a bar and be met with “ah – you’re the driver eh?” by the bar staff – it’s just that engrained into our drinking culture.)

    Drinking in houses alone is also fine (but like pretty much everything in life, it’s better shared). Several of my friends have a beer when they arrive home in the evening from work (it’s okay to drink alone).

    Also, we do actually have pubs EVERYWHERE (Adelaide was originally dubbed ‘the city of churches’ but people have suggested it’s now ‘the city of pubs’). We don’t have any zoning issues like Steve is describing. Within 10 minutes drive of my house in the suburbs, there would be somewhere between 5 and 10 pubs (I can count 5 and know that there would be several I just didn’t know about). I could comfortably walk to 3 of them without any issues. There’s also 3 bottle shops within walking distance. Two of these are in local shopping centres and this afternoon (Friday), people will leave work, stop in on the way home for a few groceries and a 6 pack/carton of beer or bottle of wine – taking something home to drink alone is a non-issue.

    Sure, we have some drunken unruly behaviour go on from time to time (when Steve says pubs there are zoned, I presume it’s to avoid that kind of stuff), but I couldn’t tell you the pubs alone caused that – it’s just as likely to be the result of a party (held at a house). If anything, I suggest that having it in the suburbs probably helps ease the issue a little. If someone’s behaving innapropriately in the suburbs, someone will call the cops and it will be dealt with. If drinking were to be concentrated in areas away from houses, that behaviour could escalate a lot further than it otherwise would be allowed to.

    While it’s important to protect our children, I also believe that part of helping them grow into functional adults is showing them (in a means where they feel safe) some things that are dumb to do. I have developed a healthy understanding that I don’t want to get drunk because my mum explained to me as a child that the man who just relieved himself on a tree out on the street in front of our house was probably in a state where he didn’t understand what he was doing. That wasn’t attractive to me, and I added that to my list of things not to do (hasn’t stopped me on every occasion, but at least it was an informed decision – drinking that is, not public toilet stops).

    As has been identified, I think it’s a LOT about culture (love your work Steve, always seeing through the symptoms to the issue). In my neck of the woods, it’s okay to drink (as much as you want), but it’s not okay to impose your drinking on others – drink driving is portrayed in our media as the ultimate way to do that…

  22. Hey Steve, want to know why people don’t want bars in their neighborhoods? Because living by a bar sucks buckets. Contrary to TV, most bars are not like “Cheers”. It’s more like drunken bikers fighting and urinating behind your house, then sobering up to their car stereos. Every night.

    Want to buy my house?

  23. I appreciate all these thoughtful comments…

    I agree with folks that say the American drinking age is too high. I believe it is the highest drinking age in the industrialized world. Canada (18) doesn’t have the problems we have with Drunk Driving or as the Aussies (18) say “Drink Driving” – Learned that today. I like the term better. It is more descriptive. If the laws say you are responsible enough to vote, go to war, drive, buy a car, or take out a loan, you should be responsible enough to drink. The 21 year old drinking age is way too high. I thought 19 was good in Minnesota before they were forced to change it by the feds.

    I have mixed feelings about raising the penalties. We’ve been doing that for 20 years and it doesn’t seem to make a dent in the problem. I think the problem is cultural not moral. I believe American culture says “don’t drink and drive” wink wink nod nod. When it really means – “shame on you if you get caught”.

    I disagree with the folks that want suburbs banned. People should be free to determine their lifestyle. Suburbs have problems but so do urban areas. I prefer the suburbs for my family for many reasons, but that’s another post.

    I also disagree with anyone that is proposing more taxes on booze or really anything. America doesn’t have shortage of taxes. The drunk driving problem is cultural, not economic. If my suburb taxed the snot out of drinkers they wouldn’t buy buses for them to get to and from the bar, they’d build a new jail or ice arena.

    I bet you live by a tough bar. But what if every neighborhood had a bar and restaurant? How ‘bout you folks in the UK or Ireland? Is living near neighborhood pubs like Stace describes?

  24. The US will always have a drink driving problem until it makes getting caught more likely and implements appropriate DUI penalties. Notwithstanding all the good reasons not to do it, people will continue to drink and drive if they know they are unlikely to be caught.

    11 US states have determined that sobriety checkpoints (otherwise known as random breath testing) are unconstitional – despite SC ruling otherwise.

    Also, unlike the stiff penalties in UK, Australia, NZ and some EC countries – some US penalties are laughable. Penalty in Virginia for a first drunk driving offence over .08 – 7 day loss of licence(!).

    The US Field Sobriety Test (walk a straight line, touch your nose etc) is subject to personal interpretation and should be replaced with a breathalyser-type device.

    UK has 18 yo age limit, higher consumption, no limit purchasing and a death rate from drunk driving 50% less than the US one.

    I love liberty and freedom and much as the next person, but if it’s a choice between random breath testing and you having the ‘freedom’ to get smashed and kill my family – no contest.

  25. I agree with the other Aussie posters that it is less of a problem here – and especially in the current 20 something generation. It’s just not acceptable to drink and drive among most of that generation (not all – there are still some idiots).

    I live in Sydney, and there are taxis, there are trains, there are late night buses running the train route til 3am. There is a culture of buying all the driver’s softdrink or OJ for him/her.

    Sydney is also organised in an interesting way (I don’t think this was intentional, but it’s how it works now), where different types of people live in different places – the people who think they’re all that live on the North Shore, the people who like to have a good time and don’t care what you wear live in the Inner West, the surfies live on the Northern Beaches… and there are pubs and clubs in each of those areas catering to that clientele. So your local pub/club/bar is likely to be your kind of place too 🙂

    I previously lived 200m away from my local, and now I live around 400m from my local – and I’ve never had a problem. Not sure what the American posters are talking about there either.

  26. I just want to throw one idea out there: let’s just innovate ourselves out of this problem. If one major car manufacturer threw enough money towards finding a non-invasive, politically -neutral, and cost-effective alcohol detecter in cars, we would be closer to a solution. The real issue is political will: we need state legislatures to mandate these in cars. The technology is here, I believe, but our leaders are not. Ten thousand Americans should not die in cars due to alcohol. It’s that simple.

  27. As the ads in Australia say, “If you drink and drive, you’re a bloody idiot!”.

    I think most people get the point after hearing this a few times 🙂

  28. Henry: Alcohol testing in cars would be pointless. First, only new cars would have it. Maybe in 30 years it would make a difference, but hacking a breath alcohol test so you could drive your car would become socially acceptable, even heroic. Second, it would be seen as “something being forced onto people by the government” which people traditionally resist. Third, the first car company to do it will probably go under. If all American car companies are forced to do it, they’ll all start going under (more so than already). That one wouldn’t bother me, but I just don’t see a big corporation loving government doing that.

  29. hmm… hate to break it to you, but *millions* of americans live within stumbling, subway, tram, bus, or a

  30. When I lived in Bahrain (a Muslim country in the Middle East and home of the Fifth fleet) alcohol was not sold freely. There were sold at specific outlets with 150% tax. You could also get alcohol at hotels, bars and clubs. Most of the drunk driving accidents were due to the local population (two thirds of the population is foreign). Most foreigners were careful about getting blind drunk, because the police are quite strict about drinking related behavior. However, alcohol sold by the US Navy to the sailors was at a subsidized rate. Each sailor had a limit of ration points he could use per month. On base marine parties were a rush to see who could chug the most in the least time. Since they were confined to base, no damage was done, except for a few bruises. Sailors on liberty however would frequent local bars and clubs. To ensure things didn’t go out of control, shore patrol/ military police would cruise the various watering holes.

    During my stay in India (the last two years) ie in Bangalore, a person could find a bar/pub in almost any neighborhood. Women tended to go to the trendier, safer places in the commercial districts. But drinking and driving is common. Though the drunk driving accident rate has increased, the number of fatalities remains low. With traffic congestion, the fastest anyone goes is 40 km/hr. And in 2005, the local government passed a law mandating all clubs/bars/pubs to shut their doors at 2300. However, though the front door is locked, the drinking continues and patrons exit via the back when they’re done.

    Drinking at home in India & Bahrain is considered normal, whether alone or in company.

    I’m in Hong Kong now and most people don’t own vehicles. Everyone uses the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). These subways run from 0400 – 0100 everyday. There’s plenty of pubs around. Every other restaurant (including family restaurants) serves alcohol. Kids start early, though the drinking age is 18. In the last 6 months I’ve only seen two smashed-out-of-your-skull drunks on the subway. And both on the weekends. Drinking is so common-place, it’s quite similar to the European style: Drink frequently but in small doses. If you do see a binge drinker, it’s either an Australian or an American, but 90% of the time it’s a Yank.

    Mass transit and governmental regulations work to reduce drinking related accidents. But a source solution needs to be a re-working of the values that a society holds. So if America wants to fix the situation it’s in, people need to start taking an honest look at the way they perceive alcohol. I also recommend that kids be allowed to start drinking when they’re 9 or 10. Supervised by parents, a small glass of wine or beer, or maybe a sip of hard liquor once in while helps remove the mystique of drinking.

  31. The solution to drunk driving is actually rather simple. Subsidize towing companies so they can tow a drunk’s car for free. Subsidize taxis, so drunks can get home free. In addition, make parking within 1/2 a mile of any bar totally and completely free.

    I’ve seen a number of drunks drive home after a raging bender. Their reason: they can’t leave their car parked on the street–it’ll get towed, they need to get home SOMEHOW, and they fear they’ll get traffic tickets if they leave the car parked during the morning.

    In a nation where farms get millions of dollars in government subsidies, we should be able to implement this rather simply. In a nation where each DUI costs a perpetrator $1,000+, why isn’t any of that money set aside to facilitate the system itself? Why? Because the government isn’t interested in fixing the problem, but in making money off of it.

  32. Ok, first of all I am Irish. I live in Cork City and here after a night on the town it’s usually a cab home because our bus services stop at around 11pm.

    The government here has been trying for years to cut out drink driving and speeding and have adopted the nastiest adverts on telly to remind people (just like the Aussies I guess) Clearly that doesn’t stop the reckless that just don’t care, and we still have a few alcohol related incidents, but figures say it’s at an all time low. There are private buses at around 3am to bring students and the like home and these are commonly used by others rather than standing around looking for a taxi all night.

    We also have brought in in the fancier bars free soft drinks for the “designated driver”, but I can’t see this lasting cause then the driver gets the mixers for everyones spirits…

    Also the penalty here is a suspended licence and/or a fine along with a thing called penalty points, which accumulate and add to your insurance (Which is already a lot more expensive than other countries) After 12 points the driver is off the road for 3 years. This method might work very well for America since the whole country is based on their cars, and the way people look down on you if you don’t drive, almost putting you into a lower class.

    What amazes me is that anyone in the neighbourhood could book a bus to bring you to and from a place at night quite cost effectively, you don’t need a massive bus, even a mini bus would do the trick for you and all your mates, you could always leave a couple of bottles of spirits and a crate of beer on the bus for the drive to and from everywhere, but thats putting an Irish spin on the solution.

    If you get your ass in gear then there’s no reason why a dent in drink driving cannot be made!

    (The new problem here is “unsociable drinking”, most of the public can’t understand this contradictory term…. I know I can’t)

  33. “Uncoupling the drinking and adulthood concepts is critical to finding a solution.”

    I can’t tell how glad I am to hear that from non-teetotalers. Growing up as a teetotaler wasn’t very pleasant, because of this coupling.

  34. i agree that our laws are ridiculous and that MADD is way off base. the fact is that every special-interest group feels perfectly justified in subverting the constitution for their particularly ‘important’ issue; they fail to appreciate the far greater damage they do to the future (and present) of america by weakening citizens’ rights – which far outweighs the ostensible ‘benefits’ of their approach.

    tens of millions of americans drunk-drive every weekend – sit outside any bar or club anywhere in america and you will see drunks driving away. 99.9% of them make it home without incident, so clearly the ‘crime’ and ‘risk’ they represent is overblown.

    nevertheless, for those thousands of americans killed by drunks each year, the price is too dear: they pay with their lives. the families of these victims are understandably upset.

    so what’s the answer? in my mind it’s simple: technology. automated cars should be on our highways in limited numbers within a decade or so, and should be mainstream a decade after that. so this problem should disappear in time – at which point we will have to wait another 20 or 50 years before the laws change back and we can drink in our cars again;).

    in the interim, i think that technology can assist by putting breathalyzers in cars; that would dissuade some people. but the hardcore drunks and young daredevils – the groups most likely to kill others in an accident – probably wouldn’t care. for them the best solution is simply for other drivers to remain alert, avoid driving late friday and saturday nights, and teach your children how to drive defensively and to predict the unexpected/erratic actions of intoxicated drivers.

  35. Just a quick one – this is how Drink Driving is viewed in the UK:

    Around 20 years ago, the government and various education institutions managed to affect public consciousness so heavily that now, drinking and driving makes you a bit of a social outcast. I’m actually *scared* to have a beer and drive. Hell, I’m scared to drive the morning after – not necessarily because I’m a big girl’s blouse, but because I understand 2 things:

    1. I *never* know how alcohol will affect me. We’ve all (well, all ex-students in the UK) had the 10-pints-and-you’re-still-sober evening, but we’ve also all had the Half-a-shandy-and-you’re-flying evening as well.

    2. It’s not *just* me on the road. I might be able to drive fine after a couple of beers, but my reaction time is down. I’m not swaying or skidding or driving recklessly, but when that dog jumps out of the bushes on to the road and I can’t react fast enough or clearly enough, I’m potentially driving my face headlong into a wire fence.

    These messages have been made crystal in my head by well thought out campaigns, and as I say, the *social* atmosphere in the pub now is that if you’re driving, you’re *not* drinking. Anything else makes you feel like a murderer.

    How did this happen effectively? The key was that I *already knew* not to drink-drive before I was even 10. Schools talked about it during road safety lessons, TV showed horrific adverts (like the one linked above, but not as tech savvy) well before the watershed. What they *also* always showed was the aftermath – the driver having to live with what was done etc etc.

    These messages had profound effects on all of us as we were so young, and they were combined with other road safety messages (don’t run on the road, look before crossing etc etc). All in all, they worked, and the attitudes have changed about-face.

    Compare with my parents’ generation, where people actually believed that they “sobered up” behind the wheel. Nutcases, all.

    It’s about education, education, education. Concentrate on the ones who are *currently* drink-driving last – go for their kids, their spouses, their families. Make sure the next generation doesn’t get involved in this practice, and not just by saying “no”, but by showing why.

    Talk to the kids, get them drinking younger, make it “no big thing” to have a glass of wine with a meal etc etc. It will pay off. Bigger fines won’t.

  36. Yes, you make very valid points. I absolutely believe that a good public transit system would solve quite a bit of problems that drunk driving poses. All I need is to take a bus or a tram or a subway to work on Friday, come out, have a couple of drinks and head back home without putting myself or the person in another vehicle at risk.

    I have been to Europe a couple of times, and I could enjoy myself much more than in the US, coz here I have to make sure that I am sober if I am out on the weekend since everytime I go out, I absolutely need a car to go from point A to point B.


  37. In America, if you try to teach kids to drink responsible before the legal age, you can be arrested or have your kids taken away because you supplied alcohol to minors.

    But in earlier generations, with more families coming from the “old country” and multi-generations in one household, children were given wine or beer at an early age, and they learned to drink in moderation because they were supervised, they had responsible adult drinkers as role models, and making a fool of yourself by overdrinking was heavily frowned upon. Drinking was not something to do for its own sake, but always associated with food, weddings, celebrations and other family events.

  38. A perspective from France:

    I’ve spent time in many cities here, and a few bars were always within walking distance. There are many villages where the only commerce available by walking is a bar, which will generally also sell a few newspapers, tobacco, lottery tickets, and sometimes also double as a café or restaurant.

    Road hazards are a very big issue here too, speed taking as much blame as booze. The government spends a lot on marketing, police barrages and radars.

    The ads they run about it are generally confrontational, very graphic (acutal accident footage or gruesome movies where the little girl always get to die), and condscending. They must traumatize a lot of people out of the roads altogether, and I believe they invite more to rebel than to be responsible (and I say that as an overly prudent young driver!)

    A few years ago, we started using automated radars. It has stirred up a lot of controversy because a lot of them are blatantly placed in spots that will maximize profit instead of accident-prone spots.

    I have a relative who has co-owned a few nightclubs over the years, most of which would always require a car. Nightclubs are taking a lot of blame in drunk driving here, so he is taking a lot of pressure from the government (as nightclubs do not have a well-defined status in France, it’s reasonably easy to get them closed simply by not renewing one of their special authorizations). Selling drinks makes much more money than everything else as they are sold for a ridiculously high price, while free access is routinely given away.

    A lot of clubs do some effort about this. For example, arrangements are made so that nonprofits can hold a booth in the lobby, where people who will drive home a group of friends leave their car keys, and are given in exchange free access and non-alcoholized drinks coupons, then have to get their breath testesd to get the keys back. (free breathalyzer tests are very frequently offered by the club itself on exit, too)
    Many of them don’t really want to hurt their core business too much, but since they are given a lot of bad press (drunk driving, but also racial discrimination at entry, and date rape drugs issues) all of them try to appear to be doing something about it.

    But no matter how much progress is made on the issue, I bet it will always remain a hot topic in many countries – the amount of victims would always sound too high even if we reduced it by 1000%. I just hope auto-pilot will happen soon and its use be made mandatory on most roads.

    (I tried to post this comment yesterday, but it looks like your software ate it. Hope it will get through.)

  39. I think a big contributor to drunk driving in America is that drinking is done in isolation. I’m not sure why.

    For example, in Trinidad, we would drink at a club, then get some food after the fete before getting in the car. By the time, we got in the car the alcohol was processed in our system from dancing and eating.

    The other problem is that drinking carries an unnecessary stigma in the US, and it seems that we humans insist on doing what ever we are restricted from doing. The greater the restriction the greater the temptation to do it.

  40. Steve —

    I took a quick look at the article you referenced, and my takeaway is that our various government agencies are taking utterly dictatorial measures to address this problem. This reminds me of the “Smoke Free America” push in the 1980s that pretty much reduced smoking to a shameful thing (is that an ashtray on your header image …? ), something on the par of being a child beater.

    This issue here, as I see it, is that our society is constantly delegating responsibility for regulating its own conduct to government agencies, which (as you’ve said) can only regulate through force. They’ve (yes, I said “they”) have come into power because we as individual Americans have allowed ourselves to become comfortable with the ethically challenged mindset of abdicating responsibility for our own actions.

    We are all responsible, but we are taught from a very young age it’s the Devil’s fault, or God’s fault, or the Communists’ fault, or the Liberal’s fault, or the Conservatives’ fault, or the (fill in the blank) fault, when it really comes down to us, to you and me. It has taken me literally decades to understand this on a very personal level, and I feel confident in saying my parents never did.

    We as a society, and possibly as a species, need to just grow up.


  41. Daniel,

    I agree with EVERYTHING you said. I love the word choice… abdicating responsibility for our own actions. Perfectly said!

    When we ask the government to solve a problem for us, we are making a faustian bargain in which we all lose freedom. Always look inside yourself for the answer… and for God’s sake don’t look to MADD, George Bush, or Al Gore for answers.

  42. Daniel one more thing…

    No my header image doesn’t show an ashtray, but it would be cool if it did. It is a compass, sextant, telescope, and a pistol lying on an old world map.

  43. Hi Steve

    I think the American culture is different from over here in the UK. There is a serious problem with drinking in the UK especially with the teenage population. It accounts for most deaths in the UK with over 33% of UK males drinking over the recommended limt per week. 20 % of children aged 12-15 have had a drink in the last week.

    I think this is because drink is sold in shops and it is so cheap to buy with many shops offering 2 for 1 deals. I could buy a bottle of cider in the shops for £1.99 and exceed the recommended number of units, that astounds me. what astounds me more is that the governemt is not doing anything about it.

    Alcohol is a huge problem in the UK and more so in Scotland. I for one would be glad if the culture changed to only drinking in bars. This would mean that the amount of alcohol consumed would depend on the money in your pocket. Whereas drinking in the house is much cheaper to do.

  44. I think the problem is mainly a cultural and social issue. Government intervention probably won’t do much to stop drunk driving.

  45. Here are the fact about alcohol consumption in Australia:

    1) Governments are tough on Drink Driving.
    2) Late night public transport varies between capital cities.
    3) Teenage binge drinking is on the increase.
    4) In the state that I live in, the last two decades have seen an explosion in alcohol outlets.
    5) In the state that I live in the vast majority of pubs have poker machines, so alcholism and compulsive gambling can be accomodated.
    6) The wine industry is heavily subsidised by the government
    7) Culturally, excessive post match consumption of alcohol, is an accepted part of playing team sports, from the amateur to professional levels.
    8) The crack down on Drink Driving has lead to an increase of Drugged Driving.
    9) An eighteen year old can legally drive a car and drink.
    10) Back before liquor laws started to be liberalised in Australia, pub closing times used to be at 6.00 pm – hence “the six o’clock swill”.
    11) Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of domestic violence.

    On a personal note two of my three parents suffered from their alcohol consumption, as did one of their parents. I also had a job working as a busboy in a nightclub close to two decades ago. Cleaning up vomit from 6 to 20 times a night, and having to have a shower each early morning to wash the stench of vomit, alcohol and cigarette smoke put on the path to sobriety.

    I also wonder if there would be the prevelance of illegal drugs if prohibition had never been repealed?

  46. I live in what you Americans might consider the typical English village. We have 5 public houses within 10 minutes walking distance, and all within the small village. In the 1900’s this village had over 30 pubs, so over time the situation is changing. 3 pubs have closed in this village since I moved here in 1996.

  47. If you have the time I have a lot of information to show you about Drunk Driving In America. It is an important subject being it kills a person every 30 minutes. And it also throughout the United States a money maker for the states revenue. We teach our children at an early age that drunk driving kills. Many legislatures in all of the United States also have a double standard. They like passing new bills on Drunk Driving with fines and etc. But when it comes down to taking that privilege to drive away they certainly shy away from that issue. And it is for obvious reasons and it points to this that drunk driver is a useful tool to all the states and a very precious commodity. He brings with him or her that revenue through fines and convictions and taxes and all the many crimes that alcohol commits each and every day. Below is a link that I wrote and it was published in the Penn State University Newspaper and you can read this also. Below the link is my original letter to them. Attached are letters that I wrote to our legislatures here in Pennsylvania. Lot of them wrote back with empty promises and if newer laws come up they say they will vote for them. Newer laws come up? Are they not law makers?
    Here is the link that was published and the original letter is below that.

    Educating our children on drunk driving and then turning around in America giving these trained adults a double standard is confusing. We teach them at an early age through many sources that drunk driving kills. Through parents, schools, District Attorneys, State Police, Papers, Media, Our High Way signs we put up on our roads and etc. There is no doubt that the alcohol revenue is great because it is big money. To change a drunken driving law the legislatures all have to look at two items and this is also true. Your family or that Revenue. It is a constant balancing act and what is held hostage? Certainly not your privilege to drive and most certainly not the drunk driver because he is a commodity a useful tool to bring in more revenue. Rehabilitation on drunk drivers has a failure rate of 80 to 90%. The one question is do we want to actually do something about this or not? Or do we leave our families on that Russian Roulette until that drunk driver takes their life. Below is just some of the research I have done and I can tell you it has been hard. The reason why is also attached to and this is just a few letters to our Representatives and Senator’s in Pennsylvania.
    Tomorrow’s future in Pennsylvania lies in the hands of your own children. But if that killing goes on in Pennsylvania then who is left?
    Drunk Driving is a concern to all Americans and to all Christians and it is the number one killer in the United States above all else. We are all taught at a early age that drunk driving kills through schools, district Attorneys, State Police, Driver’s Education, Parents, Media, papers, highway signs and billboards,. It also is a money making business for all states throughout America. Brewing companies’ lobbyists are throughout the United States and they pull the strings on any local politician to get any sort of restraint put on alcohol and its use. In Pennsylvania we have what you call a Hardship Clause or an O.L.L. License (Occupational Limited License) A form is sent in by the offender and a driver’s license issued on an honor system. No one ever checks on an O.L.L. License carrier we take their word that the vehicle is only going to be used for work purposes only. How wrong we are and it is being abused. Big Money, Big Revenue, and your family is at risk every single day. So you see the drunk driver always gets that license back no matter what. If we do not take that driver’s license away permanently and confiscate those vehicles our children are at risk. They also have alternatives to get to work and back. Walk, ride a bike, pay for a ride, ride a horse, bus, family member and the list goes on. I want you to see what a drunk driver really thinks and this is also true with all of them. About their license and rights and etc. The web site is written by a drunk driver look at the whole web site but make sure that you also read his story under My Story. Also about M.A.D.D. And all the other things about D.U.I. Lawyers who by the way hold a seminar once a year in Las Vegas on how to get you off your convictions and your driver’s license back. I want you to read my most recent letter that I wrote to our Representatives and Senator’s in Pennsylvania to get our laws changed. Course it is about the 10 or 12 th letter I wrote them all. That danger is real and it is alive throughout the United States. Here is the disgusting web site

    Pastor Thomas Tribute To Megan Click on Web Site and scroll to the bottom and click on my tribute to Megan

  48. The United States Constitution
    And Your Forefather’s

    To use the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights to your own gratification and to state the articles therein to possibly sweep away your crimes is appalling. Stating that they protect you from searches and seizures and imprisonment is truly misleading. You are taking out two words in these articles unless by PROBABLE CAUSE. The dispersing of alcohol from state to state and the transporting of alcohol was prohibited 1919 and then it was amended in 1933. A lot of people complain that their right of freedom of movement and their liberties such as pursuit of happiness and justice for all is being abused by law enforcement and leaders. Our forefathers did not have the means of automobiles back then and they certainly did not have excess to a thousand types of beer and whiskey back then. Their means of transportation was by horse and carriage or to walk. To be drunk on a horse was devastating maybe to the person who drank only while riding. And if by carriage, and the driver was drunk the persons in the carriage might be hurt, but hardly like it is today with automobiles. The carnage it causes is great meeting a person whose happiness was getting drunk and performing his right of free movement is not so great. I wonder what our forefathers would say today about the mixing of alcohol and an automobile that reaches speeds up and over 100 miles an hour. Do you think that article would stay the same? Now let us look at justice for all. It states in one of the Articles the bail amount not to be excessive. Nor excessive fines are imposed or cruel or unusual punishments be inflicted. Back then they had little money and most were farmers. Today we have Hollywood Stars and they also drink and drive and get caught. They may get 3 or 4 days in a county jail or get off completely. And if they happen to take another’s life while drunk they may get only a year in jail or community service. And also their freedom of movement restored to them. The taking of a life is a crime no matter how you cause it. You as the person that took that life denied them of their rights of freedom also. Their pursuit of happiness, freedom of movement, was taken away by you. Where is that justice for all that we speak of? We give murders that shoot another person and end their lives 25 to life and sometimes without parole. We give child molesters 5 to 10 years in jail and then track them and they must report on right where they are at. So that crime will not happen again. They can not live anywhere near a group of children or be near any schools. It is not a right to drive a vehicle and it never was. It is a privilege and that privilege can be taken away. The only reason why it is not is also simple. The drunk driver is just another commodity used by all the states they bring in revenue. And their crimes also bring in that revenue. We were all taught at an early age by many people that drunk driving kills through many resources that our government gives and supports to show that drunk driving kills. But then all the states put into effect saying that it is some type of cruelty for these same drunk drivers that are caught not to be able to get their license back. So your driver’s license is always obtainable after you pay your restitution and it comes by a form. It may be called a Hardship Clause or an O.L.L. license (Occupational Limited License) and all the states have this. So then it is called a double standard when the government states that it is a privilege to drive and supports the many resources stating Drunk Driving Kills and then turning around giving your privilege to drive back. All because it is big money and all the revenue that it can and does bring in. When you say it is your right to do this or do that just remember that right pertains to all Americans and not just you. And when you infringe on another’s rights by ignoring those rights of another you are a danger to society. That privilege to drive should be taken away there is no doubt. The Constitution only allows the right of freedom of movement and it does not have to be by vehicle. No we do not need another prohibition that is your decision to drink alcohol but others rights are being violated as you decide to exercise your privilege to drive drunk behind a vehicle. Many town s have many laws still on their books. Now if you were in this town visiting and spit on a sidewalk and someone saw you do this and turned you in. You might be spending the night in jail because it is a law in their town not to spit on their sidewalks. Are your rights violated? Why not take your rights a step further go into work drunk and tell your boss that he is violating your rights on the pursuit of happiness and that you want to be drunk and your suing him. What would happen? I leave you with this last thought. When a pilot reports to duty drunk and is caught before he takes off with a load of 200 passengers. What Happens? Do they let him? Why? He has a license and he had that right to drink why not let him fly? You are violating his rights flying makes him happy; you are also disrupting his right of freedom of movement.

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