Defense In The Case Of Drunk Driving And DUI
You might think it would be difficult to find somebody to launch a campaign challenging the argument that drinking and driving don't mix. The wide attention given alcohol-related traffic deaths and the emotional pleas of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) with their voluminous statistics and grisly tales of wasted young lives -- have helped turn the push drunk driving defense into a crusade.
Nevertheless, a new alliance of brewers, restaurants, and convenience-store owners is stepping into the fray. Their aim is to try to focus attention on strengthening drunk driver defense, not everyone who downs a cocktail or two and slips behind the wheel.
Under the imitative acronym BRADD (Beverage Retailers Against Driving Drunk), they are trying to convince legislators -- and the public -- that antidrinking laws discriminate against "social" drinkers. The crux of their argument is that most alcohol-related highway accidents are caused by drivers with serious drinking compulsions and that it is these problem drinkers, not casual drinkers, who must be targeted.
The idea is to persuade lawmakers to concentrate on the hard cases, with tough first-time sentences and follow up addiction treatment. BRADD notes that the overwhelming majority of those arrested for drunk driving have had previous brushes with the law.
"It's time for the industry to stand up and say, 'Look, we're against drunk driving, too, but there are better ways to go after the problem than these political quick fixes,' " says BRADD President Richard B. Berman, executive vice-president of Pillsbury Co.'s S&A Restaurant Corp. "What we're saying is, 'You've got your eye on the wrong ball."
BRADD released its first research report, noting that 60% of the drivers killed in alcohol-related accidents had blood-alcohol levels more than 50% above the standard for drunkenness. The group is also lining up research it thinks will show that a Massachusetts ban on "happy hour" promotions -- during which bars sell drinks at lowered prices -- has not reduced drunk driving.
This fall, the founders of BRADD will begin a membership drive, trying to rope in hotel chains, airlines, and distillers. Until now, the distillers have been running their own campaigns for moderation, but they have stayed out of the legislative battles because of conflicting interests among their customers: a sale lost by a bar may be one gained by a liquor store.
While the experts agree that the frequent drunk is the principal problem, the neo-temperance mood has become pervasive. BRADD will have a hard time convincing the public that any step that gets drunk drivers off the road isn't worthwhile -- even if only a handful of accidents are prevented.