Keith makes a good point in the post below: 24/7 Sobriety programs (twice-daily breath alcohol tests with swift and certain sanctions for drinking) are a proven technology for reducing drunk-driving recidivism (and other alcohol-related offending). We have no such evidence for rules forbidding alcohol sales to convicted drunk drivers required to use ignition interlocks.
But 24/7 is no panacea; a typical program only lasts 90 days, and there’s a limit to how long you can require someone to come in 14 times a week. (“SCRAM” bracelets, which provide continuous monitoring of alcohol in perspiration, are an alternative, but even they are too burdensome for widespread long-term use, except on people you’d really be willing to incarcerate otherwise.) And the resulting reductions in drunken mischief, while substantial, are far from complete or permanent. (Remarkably, the effects of 24/7 seem to outlast the monitoring itself.)
We still need policies that make it harder for people who commit crimes under the influence to get their hands on alcohol. The New Mexico program, aimed only at those with interlocks, is a sorry half-measure. What I’d like to see is a universal carding requirement regardless of age, with people convicted of alcohol-related crimes given driver’s licenses marked as not eligible to drink. Is having to show a driver’s license such an intolerable intrusion on liberty?
The saddest part of the New Mexico story is the well-intentioned but utterly wrong-headed opposition by Representative Maestas:
House Democratic Whip Antonio â€œMoeâ€ Maestas of Albuquerque said the legislation attempts to outlaw alcoholism.
â€œThe government cannot solve alcoholism through a deterrent or through the criminal justice system,â€ Maestas said. â€œThe cops and judges, no matter how wise they are, cannot stop alcoholism. Itâ€™s going to take counselors and doctors and family members and communities.â€
It would be hard to squeeze more misunderstanding into fewer words.
(1) Threatening people with prison for continuing to drive drunk is a deterrent program. It works poorly, largely because one result of being drunk is reduced sensitivity to consequences. By contrast, making it harder for them to get drunk is something else. Does Rep. Maestas think that banning sales to minors is an attempt to “solve alcoholism through a deterrent”? And isn’t it clear that sales to this group of adults is much more dangerous than sale to the average minor?
(2) The goal is not to “solve alcoholism.” It’s to prevent specific individuals, already convicted of endangering the lives of others while under the influence, from continuing to do so. Many, but not all, of them are alcohol-dependent.
(3) Nothing in the bill will prevent “counselors and doctors and family members and communities” from helping and pressuring problem drinkers to cut back or quit. Indeed, making it harder for them to keep drinking ought to assist that process.
People with alcohol abuse disorders who drive drunk or engage in drunken violence deserve compassion for their disorder. But they, and the rest of us, can benefit if some of that compassion takes the form of an effective nudge. Presumably Rep. Maestas wouldn’t himself offer an alcoholic friend a drink. Why should the liquor industry be allowed to do so, for money?