Drunk Driving has become a major focal point across America. Anti-drunk driving organizations are forming and laws are stiffening in efforts to put an end to it. Some people, however, believe that it is not as serious a crime as America is making it out to be. They also believe that harsher punishments are not the solution. Douglas Husak puts forth an argument that stresses why he believes drunk driving is not a serious offense and should not warrant jail time for the offender, while Bonnie Steinbock believes that drunk driving is a very serious offense, and could be grounds for murder. Husak’s work fails to convince the reader that drunk driving is not a serious offense because he attempts to put together a formula for measuring its seriousness with weak points and a complete disregard for the value of human life.
Husak attempts to prove his point by defining terms such as seriousness and offense. He refers to seriousness by using a model proposed by Andrew von Hirsch and Nils Jareborg which states, “seriousness of a crime has two dimensions: harm and culpability” (Husak, 57). Husak argues that the same harms caused by drunk drivers can also be caused by sober drivers; therefore driving drunk is no more serious than driving sober, from the harm standpoint. When it comes to culpability, Husak first considers Steinbock’s argument that drunk drivers exhibit gross recklessness, which Husak, quoting Ibid, is “defined to include six elements: a defendant must (1) consciously (2) disregard a (3) substantial and (4) unjustifiable (5) risk that (6) a law abiding person in his situation would not have disregarded” (Husak, 59).
Husak, focusing on the first element, again compares drunk drivers to sober drivers by saying that sober drivers are also conscious of the possibility of causing harm. He also says that not all drunk drivers are aware of the risk of causing harm and therefore are not being reckless. He even goes on to claim that drunk driving may not even be negligent, the lowest degree of culpability, and therefore is not a serious offense. He supports this by saying that a reasonable person seldom knows his BAC level. Husak classifies drunk driving as an anticipatory offense, meaning it is an offense that punishes risky conduct. He believes that responsibility for harm should not fall only on the violator and that steps should be taken by other drivers and the state to reduce the risk of an accident. He also believes it is not a serious offense because different people respond to alcohol in different ways and that at the .1% BAC, only “half of the population shows significant signs of impairment” (Husak, 69).
Husak examines other factors in determining how serious drunk driving really is. He dismisses the risk of drunk driving as being serious for a number of reasons. He first states that many drunk driving accidents would have also happened had the driver been sober. Husak also estimates that eleven thousand people would have survived fatal crashes if drivers had been sober. He says that this aggregate figure does not indicate a significant risk because an individual drunk driver is not responsible for the actions of the entire population. He also indicates that the risk of death may be small because drunk driving occurs often compared to the number of accidents and deaths. Other reasons Husak believes drunk driving is not a serious offense are that many drivers do not know their exact BAC and that drunk driving is too widespread to be considered a serious crime. Husak wraps up his argument by suggesting the creation of a more serious offense for drivers with exceptionally higher BAC’s than .1%.
From a moral standpoint, Husak’s entire argument can not be taken seriously. The seriousness of drunk driving cannot be explained by definitions or formulas and many statistics can tell lies, especially the ones presented by Husak. For example, his estimate of eleven thousand deaths per year directly caused by drunk driving is significantly less than Steinbock’s factual figure of about twenty five thousand per year. Husak tries to make his argument factual, however he makes many opinionated statements, such as, “many accidents involving drunk drivers would have occurred even if the drivers had been sober” (Husak, 62). Drunk driving cannot be compared with the risk and harm of sober driving because it is completely different. Drunk drivers are never in an appropriate state to get behind the wheel, while sober drivers are in much better condition and have better judgment and inhibitions.
Driving a vehicle has become a part of our society, so one cannot say that driving is not a social necessity. Driving drunk, however is not a necessity and can be avoided. To say that drunk driving does not exhibit negligence is ludicrous. Drunk driving goes beyond negligence and should be classified as recklessness because all drivers should be conscious of the risk of getting behind the wheel after drinking. Husak’s point that “One cannot simply assign full responsibility for all the harm involved in an accident to the driver who disobeyed a traffic law” (Husak, 67) is a disgrace. The fact that limited-access highways put forth less risk for drunk drivers has nothing to do with responsibility for an accident.
Is he saying that drunk drivers should get on the highway as much as possible? He adds to this embarrassing argument by saying that there would be less risk if the state removes roadside hazards. So basically, if a driver is too drunk to stay on the road, he should be able to veer off the road and not hit a tree. Let us remove all roadside “obstacles” so that it is safer for drunk drivers. In reality, if a drunk driver cannot drive a straight line, it is better for him to hit a tree instead of another car or a pedestrian. Maybe society should plant more roadside hazards.
Husak believes drawing the line at a BAC level of .1% is unfair for people with a higher tolerance. This argument does not hold water, however, because police only administer a breathalyzer test if there are tangible signs of excessive drunkenness. The most important reason that this is a poor argument put forth by Husak is that he completely ignores the fact that lives are at stake. Drunk driving is a serious crime because it is an unnecessary activity that risks the lives of those who take part in it as well as the lives of others. Husak would say the same for sober driving, but he fails to realize its importance to today’s society and the fact that a drunk driver is much more dangerous than a sober driver, and therefore presents an unnecessary risk to human life.