American Political Philosopher, Author, and Musician
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Reason vs Common Sense: Should Drinking and Driving Be Against the Law?

June 2014

 

Usually reason and common sense arrive at the same conclusion. Sometimes they don’t, however.

The Constitution mandates that reason is the standard of law, rather than common sense, faith, dogma, or some other non-scientific method of thinking. (If you interpret the First Amendment correctly)

 

If you ask people if drinking and driving causes accidents, they will overwhelmingly say “yes”.

In most other contexts, individuals will not attribute causal relationships between events even when there is an overwhelmingly greater correlation between them.

About a third of fatality accidents are said to be “alcohol-related”.

Almost all murderers wear shoes, however.

If you ask people if shoes cause people to commit murder, almost no one would answer “yes”.

Clearly causation isn’t present in either case.

            If you swing a hammer into a thin plate-glass window, the window breaks.

            Your swinging of the hammer into the window is the cause of the window breaking. Absent some other intervening factor, such as a sheet of plywood being placed in front of the glass, the glass will break 100% of the time.

            That’s what a causal relationship is. An occurrence of event A causes the occurrence of event B, every time. Even if event B follows event A every time, that still doesn’t prove a causal relationship. There could be a third factor, C, causing both A and B, for example.

            But even one occurrence of event A that is not followed by event B is enough to seriously call into question a causal relationship between the two events.

            There are somewhere around half of a million on-premises liquor licenses in the United States, not to mention liquor and grocery stores carrying alcohol. If you conservatively estimate just 20 patrons consuming alcohol and driving for each establishment per day, there are way more than 10 million people drinking and driving every day, with about 35 fatality accidents related to drivers having consumed alcohol.

            That’s one in more than 300,000 drivers under the influence of alcohol causing a fatality accident daily, and around 1 in 1.5 million drivers not under the influence of alcohol causing a fatality accident daily.

            So what we see is not a causal relationship- as the overwhelming majority of people who drink and drive do so safely. We see an increased probability of an individual causing an accident under the influence of alcohol, so let’s look at that more closely.

            Insurance companies calculate that the average person will file a collision claim once every 17 years. That means the average person has about a one in 6205 chance of causing an accident each day they drive.

            The problem with this is that individuals have vastly different propensities to cause accidents.

            Most of us have safe driving habits. We don’t tailgate people at 70 miles per hour; we don’t weave in and out of traffic like it’s a video game. We’re not in a constant hurry and we don’t behave as though the road were paved for us alone.

            On the other hand, many of us have ridden with someone with whom we’ve vowed to never ride again after that one experience.

            I had a couple of friends in my early twenties that wrecked so frequently it was like clockwork. I know a woman who bought a new car about a year ago. I recently saw her and jokingly asked her how many times she’d wrecked it (having ridden with her once) and she replied without hesitation “four”. I then saw the car and it was in fact still wrecked in four places.

            The point here is that individuals have vastly different probabilities of causing accidents as a function of their personalities.

            The vast majority of us hold a probability of less than one in 10,000 every time we get behind the wheel, while other individuals maintain a probability of one in a thousand or worse, and that’s before we figure in the effect of alcohol.

 

            When a person from the first personality group goes to a bar, he or she may have a few drinks over the course of watching a basketball game, or dinner. These people will may evaluate that they are safe to drive, and will drive home safely. They may evaluate that they are too intoxicated to drive home safely, and will ride with a friend, call a spouse, opt for a taxi, or even walk, before getting behind the wheels of their cars. I’ve seen people do this many times, and I’ve done it myself at least once. They know they have a responsibility to drive safely, and they make decisions that are consistent with that responsibility.

             Those from the latter personality group- the ones who are driving irresponsibly on the way to the bar, will behave differently.

            They’ll often not choose to drink in moderation, and they don’t hesitate to drive in this state. This fact exacerbates the already-disparate range of probabilities of causing accidents between them and the first group. While those in the first group may start with a one-in-12,000 probability of causing an accident for a single instance of driving, they may now have a one-in-11,000 chance under the influence of alcohol when they do choose to drive.

            Those in the group that start with a one-in-500 chance may have doubled their risk or worse- again, due to their individual irresponsibility.

           

            Let’s take the famous case of Matthew Cordle, who released a youtube video admitting guilt for causing the death of Vincent Canzani.

            Cordle said the accident happened after a night of bar-hopping, and he “somehow” ended up driving at a high rate of speed the wrong direction on an interstate freeway.

            First he says he’ll “take full responsibility”, but then he focuses on other people who drink and drive: “Don’t make the same excuses that I did. Don’t say it’s only a few miles or you’ve only had a few beers or you do it all the time and it’ll never happen to you because it happened to me and all those are just excuses to make yourself feel better about a decision you know is wrong”.

            Pardon my French, but what a fucking hero.

            He’s not taking responsibility at all. He’s doing exactly what the law currently does, which is to blame these incidents on all of the people who didn’t cause them. It’s the fault of the general population of people who have a few drinks and choose to drive, and we have to be treated as such.

            By God, if the police can’t tell by our driving that we’re about to be doing 100 miles an hour down the wrong side of a freeway, then they’ll just have to setup checkpoints to stop us in the pursuit of our liberty and verify whether we’ve been drinking. We can’t let a little thing like The Constitution get in the way when there’s money to be made by police precincts and lawyers.

            “But what’s wrong with that?” you might say. “Having the law come down on everyone who drinks and drives has to be a good thing, right?”

            First of all, anytime you perceive human beings as anything other than individuals, you’re already un-American in your thought process. “White people are like this”; “Black people are like that”; “Single mothers can’t raise kids responsibly”; “Teachers deserve more pay”; “Mexicans are lazy”; “People who drink and drive cause accidents”.

            Moreover, irresponsible individuals have incentive to blame anything but themselves for their actions. When the law provides them this excuse in the form of laws against drinking and driving, rather than reckless driving, it increases the probability that they will make poor choices. They need that smokescreen. Without it, they stand alone and exposed.

            Freedom to drink alcohol and drive didn’t cause Matthew Cordle to get blind drunk and drive into oncoming traffic on the freeway. Drinking and driving doesn’t cause that. For 99.9% of us who drink alcohol, there is absolutely NO chance that we’ll get behind the wheel of a car in any condition that could place us in such a circumstance. That horrible crime was the action of one irresponsible individual, period.

            That crime was not drinking and driving- it was extremely reckless behavior.

            These constant “laws” that tell us all of the things we can’t do while we’re driving make a mockery of law in general. It’s against the law to drink and drive, text and drive, eat and drive, have sex while driving, read and drive, sleep and drive, teach tropical birds to speak while driving- blah blah blah. It’s crazy. Why should I care what the person driving next to me just consumed or is doing while he’s driving? What I care about is how safely he is driving, and it shouldn’t be against the law to drive safely no matter how drunk you are or whatever else you may be doing. Most individuals understand how to prioritize driving vs. other behaviors. It’s the relative few who don’t who cause problems. You can’t correct the latter category by focusing away from them and blaming the crowd that surrounds them. You correct them with a pinpoint spotlight right on them.

            What’s needed is one law, period: reckless driving is illegal. Circumstances surrounding each incident should go into sentencing severity, and that’s it. Extreme negligence should carry extreme penalties. A person who kills another person with an automobile should never drive again, period, and in most cases- that person should spend a long time in jail and pay a great deal in restitution.

            Police officers exist to make sure individuals are NOT hindered in their pursuit of freedom, and should not be permitted to stop anyone without proof of an infraction. If a person is speeding, then there should be radar or other technological evidence of the fact. If an officer sees someone driving in what appears to be a reckless manner, he should be required to capture videographic proof. If an officer sees someone swerve for example, and pulls out behind that person and is not able to capture such an act on video, then clearly the person has situational awareness that allows him to operate the vehicle safely all the way to his destination, and there is therefore no justification to stop his progress.

            I just read a story about a police precinct enacting a policy of “profiling” young people riding bicycles with helmets, pulling them over, and giving them a “citation” of free ice cream for such good behavior. That mirrors other stories I’ve seen of actually pulling over adults driving to give them awards for good driving, and then I’ll read comments from people almost all of which are positive in response to this.

            Have you all lost your minds? (It’s rhetorical; I know you have)

            Law enforcement exists for one purpose: to secure the blessings of liberty.

            The purpose is not to “ensure safety”, to “protect”, or even “to serve”; and it’s certainly not to be some sort of parental presence to stop our progress and pat us on the head when it deems we’re meeting its expectations. The goal of the country is to get the hell out of our way, because we might be up to something great, unless we prove we’re a threat to someone else’s liberty.

            An increased probability of safety and protection is a by-product of more-secure liberty, because individuals who act irresponsibly and offensively risk a greater probability of paying higher prices for such actions. Someone intent on committing murder may think twice about the increased probability of being held accountable by society, but a free society can do very little to stop someone bent on such a design without destroying the value of life in the process. We could all be put in cages and be monitored by some elite group of saviors, but death would be preferable considering the resulting atrophy of all that makes society worth pondering.

It’s the same with driving a vehicle. It’s one of the greatest freedoms in America, and it carries great responsibility. The overwhelming majority of us who undertake it do so with great respect to that responsibility, even when we consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel. All sane people want to reduce the number of incidents of irresponsible people operating automobiles, whether that irresponsibility includes excessive alcohol consumption or any other avoidable distraction. The question is “What’s the most effective way of doing so?”

The answer is to make sure that the blame will fall sharply and squarely on the individual exhibiting that behavior, and not on some diffuse abstraction called “people who drink and drive”. This is the mentality that respects both the letter and the spirit of The Constitution. When people begin to hear more messages about individuals suffering dire personal consequences for reckless driving, rather than messages about how someone who was drinking and driving- like millions of other people that day- inevitably caused a fatality as “all such people are likely to do”, the message rings truer and has greater impact.

More people will leave half of that last beer on the table; more people will order some food and sit for another half hour to sober up; more people will catch the cab or phone the wife. More people will not want to be that irresponsible individual, and we’ll start to see those fatality numbers dropping significantly. As long as society insists on spreading the blame around to millions of people who don’t deserve it, then the irresponsible people will be more likely to believe that they are part of that group, instead of facing the image of who they really are- until it’s too late for someone else.

 

copyright 2014 Kenneth Shipman

 

 

 

 

 

 

mummy


The mummy of Ramses II on display at the Egyptian museum in Atlanta earlier this month



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