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FHP’s Crackdown and the Prohibitionist Politics of Drunk Driving: A Dissent

| July 6, 2012

florida highway patrol

Beware the patrol.

By Darrell Smith

So, the Florida Highway Patrol sees fit to send 40 troopers and cars as well as two airplanes on this beautiful Friday to patrol I-95 from Flagler County to the Georgia border, a six-fold increase over normal patrolling manpower.  The Hell with the cost, I feel so much safer now.

Darrell Smith. (© FlaglerLive)

I am pretty sure I will be nowhere near I-95 this weekend.   I will stay away because like any sensible American here in the land of the free and the home of the brave in the 21st century, I know that I have much better odds of the FHP screwing up my life than any criminal or drunk driver.

Just ask anyone of the millions of lawbreakers who will drive this weekend, celebrating our freedoms, and blowing over 0.08 into the magic machine.   But we roll the dice anyway. We bet we’re safely operating a vehicle as others like us have done  billions of times over the years after two or three drinks, hoping they don’t become one of the unlucky winners of the Breath-O-Lizer Lottery.   The same gamble that cost their unlucky family members, friends and co-workers their bank account and jobs and made them criminals without them actually hurting anyone as our lawmakers force transgressors to transfer all their money to the bank accounts of local governments and attorneys.  In this quest for justice we make sure we ruin drivers’ lives as well as the lives of their families, take away their ability to make a living and put them in jail if they do not pay.

Before you all rush to the keyboard to scream at this blasphemy and the irrefutable knowledge that has been drilled into your head for the last three decades that we must protect the children, please, stop.  Take a deep breath.

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I am not talking about the alcoholic idiot who has six accidents and five DUIs and still gets behind the wheel falling-down drunk. Or the kid who chugs half a fifth and murders a family on its way to a birthday party with an overpowered Chevy Nova, as happened to my cousin and his new wife in the 1970s.  I’m talking about ruining the lives of good working folks who stop off for a beer or three coming home from work, good, normal citizens going out to celebrate a wedding, birthday or weekend or just living a normal life and exercising that “pursuit of happiness” right we all are supposed to have.  And somehow they seem to consistently, responsibly and predictably manage to safely make their way home.
In other words, we are talking about making criminals of you and me and everyone you know who has committed this crime at one time or another.   Almost every one of us has home after two drinks and was, by law, committing a serious criminal offense. All of us except for Mormons and teetotalers.

We’ve been so indoctrinated for the last 30 years that we forget it was not always such a cut and dried criminal and evil offense.  Candy Lightner changed that when she took her personal tragedy and turned it into a crusade to channel her grief.

David Hanson relates the story: “On May 3, 1980, Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was walking in her residential neighborhood in Fair Oaks, Calif., on her way to a church carnival when she was struck from behind by a drunk driver who briefly passed out, came to and drove off after killing the girl. Cari’s body was thrown 125 feet and was so badly mutilated that her organs could not be donated. The crime was committed by a repeat DUI offender who’d been released on bail for a hit-and-run drunk driving crash two days before he killed Cari, his fifth offense in four years.

Cari Lightner.

Candy Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in her den on May 7, 1980, four days after the tragedy and a day after Cari’s funeral. That’s when she discovered that the offender, who had been caught, would probably not receive any time in jail, much less any time in prison, for his crime. ‘I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead,’ Lightner later wrote.”

Who could possibly resist a crusader with a story like that? Well, not the Reaganites who were looking for a reason to increase the federal funding for police and their numbers on the streets.  It nicely tied into the War on Drugs, criminalizing something that was previously normal but suddenly dangerous, illegal and immoral.  We Must Protect the Children.

Insurance companies got on board when they tripled premiums for these new criminals. The money rolled in to Lightner’s new organization.  Millions in government grants, insurance companies helping with money and staff, even hiring a consulting company to suggest changing the mane from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to MADDriving.  Better, don’t ya think?

And a nationwide movement was born to lobby every statehouse to come to their senses and Protect the Children or lose federal highway construction money. They were compelled to increase the drinking age from 18 to 21, overturning changes made by a lot of states during the Vietnam war when people wondered: “If the kid can go overseas and die fighting at 18, how can we tell him he’s still not old enough to have a beer before he leaves?”

Blood-alcohol limits fluctuated across the nation.  And blowing into a Smith and Wesson Breathalyzer known to be a piece of inaccurate, expensive but unquestionable and unchallengeable federally funded crap was found somehow in no way to violate 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination. Lightner, to her eternal credit, raised a voice against a different kind of madness. “This,” she said, “isn’t what I intended.”

“The man who killed my daughter kept on driving drunk,” Lightner told Health magazine. “He has since been arrested several more times. In each case his blood alcohol content has been .20 or above. A small segment of our drinking/driving population causes the majority of the fatalities. So why aren’t we going after them?” She said: “If you want to save lives, raise your driving age. Lower the speed limit! Both of these do more than this does. This is a feel-good, do-nothing law.”

Lightner wanted police “concentrating their resources on arresting drunk drivers—not those drivers who happen to have been drinking. She left MADD, saying the organization she created became “far more neo-prohibitionist than I ever wanted or envisioned.  I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”

I said when they first criminalized this common everyday act that for the first time in the history of this nation, you could become a convicted felon not for some harm that you actually did to any person or government organization.  For the first time in the history of America, you were a criminal because you theoretically increased the likelihood that you may cause harm to yourself or someone else. You didn’t hurt anyone. But you might. Just how in hell does this rise to the level of a felonious criminal act?

This is the salient point, because it was a step that increased the power of the American government that made us the police state we are enabling as a norm today.  That leads us all back to this FHP show of force from 10 a.m. 6 p.m. today, a normal Friday, and to read this article without batting an eye. Despite the fact that we are daily bombarded with warnings about how broke we are, how we need to close the libraries and lay off teachers, we don’t dare question this deployment of a small army on our highway.

It’s a show of force worthy of Germany’s Brownshirts, backed up by two assistants from the air and countless civilian accomplices on the ground. You have a small chance of being harmed by a criminal or a drunk driver. But if you have an ounce of sense, you’d better fear the police more, and remember Benjamin Franklin’s words: “A People willing to trade Freedom for Security will receive and deserve neither.”

Darrell Smith is a Flagler Beach business owner and occasional contributor. He comments at FlaglerLive as NortonSmitty. Reach him by email here.

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11 Responses for “FHP’s Crackdown and the Prohibitionist Politics of Drunk Driving: A Dissent”

  1. Jennifer says:

    ” For the first time in the history of America, you were a criminal because you theoretically increased the likelihood that you may cause harm to yourself or someone else. You didn’t hurt anyone. But you might. Just how in hell does this rise to the level of a felonious criminal act?”

    Excellent point!

  2. Jim. R says:

    Yes, the good old days when getting stopped by a cop didn’t mean you would be arrested just because you had a few drinks. They used their judgement on whether you were too impaired to drive and even then they would let you park your car and call a cab or friend to drive you home.
    I also remember hitchhiking clear across the country to San Francisco and not being bothered by the cops , try that now and you will be searched and told to get off the road or arrested.
    All that celebrating on the 4th of a freedom and Democracy that has been seriously diminished, is a joke and the joke is on us.

  3. question says:

    Thank you FHP…for doing your job, risking your life doing your job.
    Your service is most appreciated.

    Everyone…be sober & safe out there.

  4. Clint says:

    I heard the FHP will now begin pulling over drivers who “look” like they are intoxicated. I saw about 43 croatians today wearing russian beaver hats driving down I-95. I bet they were intoxicated.

  5. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Darrell, I have to really disagree with your stance.

    You see I was lucky enough to grow up here in Florida and lived through the 18 year old, old enough to go to war, old enough to drink era…. I was one of those teens then, and can tell you that from age 16 on I never had any problem in acquiring alcohol. NONE NADA ZIP……

    I was lucky enough to have parents who were real enough and made it clear, With consumption of anything comes responsibility. Call for a ride, stay where you are, whatever…….

    I was also lucky enough to live through it. I didn’t always do the smart thing, or the right thing, and I have never been caught DUI. As I grew up I learned it simply was not worth it, due to the factors you mentioned. Court trials, Insurance, yada yada yada… In the end, I became the one who stays sober 99% of the time.

    I also feel that other drivers on the road deserve the mutual respect, that everyone on the road is acting in a cool, calm, and efficient manner so that all of us can make it to our destination safely and in one piece, not in a body bag, or worse yet a life long disability due to someone else wanting to have a good time. It is never right to have a self gain, at someone else’s cost is it?

    It is obvious that Alcohol dulls a persons sense’s and slows reaction times significantly. That has been proven in tests over and over, while the amount of alcohol necessary does vary form person to person, the effects and its results are the same. The .08% B.A.C. was determined that it would have some effect on everyone, and a very detrimental effect on a person with a smaller body frame. You have to remember that a lounge or manufacturer sells 1 oz alcohol per serving typically without regard to whether you are a 100 lb skinny model, or a 250 plus football jock. They both get approx 1 oz per drink, beer, glass of wine.
    So the .08% B.A.C. while it may be low for you, overall is very likely a “Fair & Resonable” amount when it is applied without favor or bias across all drivers.

    It should also be noted that a healthy persons system will tolerate that 1 oz of alcohol at 1 per hour without going over the .08 limit. 1 per hour!, if that is not enough to satiate your desire for alcohol, then maybe you should consider whether you have a drinking problem? I don’t know you, but to be honest for me 1 per hour is more than enough.

    Having to go to a home and tell a parent, or wife, or other relative that a person has died in an accident is bad enough, then having to answer the questions about why, and the reason is because someone was drunk, them or another just makes it all seem so much more sad, preventable and a waste is that much harder.

  6. Steve R says:

    This is a well-reasoned, well-thought-out argument, even if I disagree with a lot of it.
    What Mr. Smith doesn’t seem to recognize is that what Lightner did was nearly unprecedented in this country: As a private citizen, she succeeded in changing an entire nation’s mindset about an important issue. Drinking and driving—“Man was I in the bag last night; don’t know how I made it home! Yuk Yuk”–used to be treated with a nod and a wink. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? What Lightner did was to make that sort of thinking socially unacceptable. A remark like that is no longer greeted with a chuckle; more likely, the drinker will be told that he did something foolish, dangerous and unacceptable.
    I enjoy my beer, too, especially on these hot summer evenings, at car shows, beach gatherings, and the like. But I know I have a responsibility not to get behind the wheel if I’ve had more than a couple in a couple of hours. That’s Lightner’s legacy, in a nutshell.
    In countries like Sweden and Norway, where alcoholism is rampant (hey, it’s cold as hell up there), drinking and driving is simply not done. There is a social consensus that you absolutely (not Absolut) do not get behind the wheel after nipping at your vodka or aquavit. Yes, there are severe penalties for doing so, but it is not really about law enforcement–it is about the opprobrium from your friends and neighbors, and that’s much more effective.
    Good article, Mr. Smith. Lots of food for thought. Now, load up the cooler and enjoy the upcoming weekend on your back porch!

  7. NortonSmitty says:

    A point I hoped the article conveyed was that Lightner may have started MADD, but it soon was co-opted by government, insurance and other entities that had a much different set of goals for the organization than making sure drunk drivers who were dangerous got what they deserved.

  8. Leilani says:

    Hear, hear! I appreciate your summation of the ‘over the top’ dealings on the dui’s these days. I long for the sensability of the ‘Andy Taylor of Mayberry’ days. There seem to be more and more ‘bad apples’ that spoil the barrel for the sane, thoughtful, smart good drivers. I guess when the jails are all full and over-flowing..and most of the town is locked up or have their license taken away….things might change. I’ve never had a wreck or a citation in 49 years of driving here abouts… and now, a smart aleck arrested me and messed our whole life up because he smelled alcohol on my breath. I was parked. I was so mad I refused their tests, so that ranked me as a #1 criminal. And cost me and my family more than we have.

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