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Are DWI Laws Effective?

Jacob jacob May 6, 2013

As you should know by now, anytime a new law comes out advertising security in exchange for your rights, you should be leery. I write a good deal about DWIs in Louisiana, hwoever, are tougher laws against drunk driving making things better for society? Are they even effective? Radley Balko claims that we should abolish drunk driving laws. (Watch this clip)

As the video states, the reasons that we want drunk drivers off the road are based on our desires to get risky drivers off the road. Mr. Balko’s point is that we should be punishing reckless driving, not the drinking. It is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, to drive while sleepy or texting. A person who is legally intoxicated but driving safely poses a vastly inferior threat.

Another secondary problem with our DWI laws is that our rights have been stripped in the public relations war against drunk driving. DWI checkpoints, lowered Blood Alcohol limits, and even drawing your blood without your content.

The history of DWI-related laws and judicial decisions over the past 30 years or so have just been one example after another of the state eroding your constitutional rights in the name of safety. Not only is this line of thinking foolish, but the actual data does not really support this claim, and the state and public interest groups attempting to create harsher DWI laws go out of their way to mislead the public about the results of these laws.

The typical chart reflecting DWI rates starts at 1982 and show a downward trend, like this:

DWI Fatality Rate 1982-2002

However, this is EXTREMELY misleading. The decrease in DWI related fatalities existed long before the tougher DWI laws were enacted around 1982. See the charts below:

DWI Crash/Injury/Fatalities 1976-2008

DWI Death Rates 1921-2008

The decrease from the peak of the mid-70s was already in full effect BEFORE the new, harsher DWI laws came into effect. The rate of decreased fatalities from DWI-related crashes hasn’t been noticeably affected since 1982, when you look at the big picture.

I’m not a fan of drunk driving, but I am not a fan of our current DWI laws, either. Those who do drive dangerously/erratically while intoxicated should be punished. However, all those who drive dangerously/erratically, regardless of the cause, should be punished. The data used to justify harsher and harsher DWI laws is often misleading, skewed, or outright incorrect. We then use this bad data to write DWI laws that can have harsh effects on those found guilty. Then, we allow the police and courts to dissolve our rights in the name of this bad data. Perhaps it is time to have a real discussion about reforming the DWI laws in Louisiana.