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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, July 10, 2009

McIlheran Watch: It's like he wants you to drive drunk

by folkbum

I hate to interrupt my season premiere of "Eureka" for this, but every time I think I can get out, he drags me back ... you know the thing.

Anyway, McIlheran is earning his "Preview Patty" nickname this weekend. I got this excerpt of his Sunday column--yes, the Sunday column, so no linkity-blinkity--in my inbox at a bit after 6 this evening:
You knew that your government is planning to put a blood-alcohol interlock on your car’s ignition, didn’t you?

“We’d rather not call them ignition interlocks,” said Susan Ferguson of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS, program. “It’s not a punitive device.” [. . .]

The devices won’t be perfect, so car-makers will err on the side of no-go. Suppose a driver measures at 0.079%, say, starts the car and runs over a pedestrian. Then the cops find that her blood-alcohol is really 0.09%. Which car-maker will want to face the victim’s family lawyer and explain tolerable error or the fact that blood-alcohol can go on rising after your last drink?

So in practice, cars will impose a lower limit--two glasses, not three, say. Ferguson concedes this: Her devices will be set with a safety margin. It’s better, she says, to erroneously stop an innocent than to erroneously permit a drunk: “We’re very keen not to let anyone over the limit drive.” [. . .]

Beyond these is the biggest question: Just why would your government presume--to the point of making you pass a test to drive your car--that you’re an irresponsible drunk?
The ellipses are his, so perhaps the real column corrects the implication contained in the opening paragraph, which is that you--responsible, literate, intelligent (you're reading this blog as opposed to, say, McIlheran's) you--will have to have a blood-alcohol ignition interlock on your car. The interlock, suggests McIlheran, will be mandated by the federal government, and all cars are going to have them and every driver will have to blow into one every time he or she wants to take a spin down to the custard stand. That includes you--attractive, sober, ambidextrous you.

McIlheran must think that you've been convicted of DUI, then. (I don't know if you can sue him for slander if he doesn't use your name in particular.) That's because the real story--what some might call the "truth," but others might call the "facts," and I include both because its important to tell both sides of every story--is that the draft federal highway bill under consideration in a subcommittee of Congress somewhere has a provision that ties a portion of federal highway money to states' passing laws requiring the interlocks on the cars of those convicted of driving under the influence.

Got it? Not you. Because you would never be convicted of DUI, since you're all very athletic chess grandmasters with clear skin and lustrous full heads of hair.

Claiming we're all going to have to blow before we go is par-for-the-course fearmongering by the pro-DUI lobby. For example, this website, which even has some sort of magical crystal-ball based future timeline which indicates that by 2019, the US will have "de facto prohibition" because the ignition lock mandatory on every car will be set at .03 BAC (.08 is the current legal limit). It's hooey, of course, but it's the kind of hooey that McIlheran peddles thrice-weekly.

What's unusual, even for him, is the blasé way he suggests that convicted DUI offenders can just be trusted not to do it again. It's surprisingly hard for me to find Wisconsin statistics, but from what I could google up, it seems about a third, give or take, of all arrests for driving under the influence are of repeat offenders. (Check out these pretty graphs from Ohio.) It should also be noted that Wisconsin is consistently last or near last when it comes to DUIs; MADD noted a couple of years ago that more of our traffic fatalities were DUI-related than any other state's.

And yet he wrote, according to the last line of the excerpt he previewed, that he can't believe the government would assume you were "an irresponsible drunk." I guess McIlheran thinks all the responsible drunks ought to be allowed to drink and drive.

It's also unusual considering that his newspaper's second-best chance for a Pulitzer this year (after the BPA dead horse) was the "Wasted in Wisconsin" series specifically about how big of a problem drinking and driving is here. (One of the stories, in fact, was about the "responsible" drunks who thought they were not impaired at all. Who needs an interlock device to tell you if you're safe when you instead have the inflated sense of self-esteem and strong feelings of invincibility that come with being drunk?) I would have thought that even if no one is checking his facts about interlock laws, someone down at 3rd and State would at least have enough sense to wonder whether putting such pro-DUI pablum on the op-ed page might just be offensive considering the dismal state of affairs reported on the news pages.

But, hey, what do I know. I don't get a column at the daily dinosaur. I'm just a guy with a meagre blog read by the wisest and most heroic people on the planet.

(Updated: More here.)

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