San Diego drinkers react to alcohol differently, DUI criminal defense lawyers maintain.

1 drink may well be too much for some folks in San Diego California, attorneys agree.

Experienced San Diego drinkers, by contrast, can function relatively normally with a BAC at or above the legal threshold.

Whether or not someone is under the influence further depends on things like the medications she or he is taking and the amount of sleep she or he got the night before, etc.

Rather than push the artificial line back farther from .08% to say .05% BAC, legislators should instead rid of it entirely by repealing drunk driving laws altogether. It may break San Diego DUI lawyers but perhaps it is what California should do.

Remember the 2000 federal law that pressured states to lower their BAC standards to .08 from 10%. Back then, the average BAC in alcohol-related fatal accidents was .17% BAC.

2/3rds of such accidents involved drivers with BACs of 0.14 or higher.

The federal government classifies a fatal accident as “alcohol-related” if it involved a driver, a biker, or a pedestrian who had consumed alcohol, whether or not drinking actually contributed to the accident.

In 1995 NHTSA studied traffic data in 30 safety categories from the first five states to adopt the new per se DUI / Drunk Driving / DWI standard. In 21 of the 30 categories, those states were either no different from or less safe than the rest of the country. Once the .08 standard took effect nationwide in 2000, alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased, following a 20-year decline.

Critics of the 0.08 standard predicted this would happen. The problem is that most people with a BAC between .08 and .10 don’t drive erratically enough to be noticed by police officers in patrol cars. So DUI police began setting up DUI checkpoints and drunk driving roadblocks to catch them. But every cop manning a sobriety checkpoint aimed at catching motorists violating the new law is a cop not on the highways looking for more seriously impaired motorists. By 2004 alcohol-related fatalities went down again, but only because the decrease in states that don’t use roadblocks compensated for a slight but continuing increase in the states that use them.

These questionably constitutional DUI checkpoints have become little more than revenue generators for local governments. When local newspapers inquire about specific DUI checkpoints and drunk driving roadblocks after the fact, they inevitably find lots of fines for minor infractions but few drunk drivers.

According to a 2009 story at the investigative journalism site California Watch and data from the University of California at Berkeley, 1,600 DUI sobriety checkpoints in California generated $40 million in fines, $30 million in overtime pay for cops, 24,000 vehicle confiscations, and just 3,200 arrests for drunk driving. A typical nightly checkpoint would divert 20 or more cops from other tasks while yielding a dozen or more vehicle confiscations but only just 3 drunk driving arrests.

The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination has been turned upside down by state laws that instantly suspend the licenses of drivers who refuse to take roadside breath tests. Most manufacturers of breath test machines have refused to turn over their source code, meaning DUI & Drunk Driving defendants can’t assess the machines’ margin of error—a significant factor in a case where the difference between 0.80 and 0.79 for a first offense can mean $1,000 or more in fines, mandatory alcohol awareness classes, and loss of driving privileges for up to a year.

The DUI enforcement powers miss the point: The threat posed by drunk driving comes not from drinking per se but from the impairment drinking can cause. That fact has been lost in the rush to demonize people who have even a single drink before getting behind the wheel (exemplified by the shift in the government’s message from “Don’t Drive Drunk” to “Don’t Drink and Drive”). Several studies, such as a 2005 paper in the British Medical Journal, have found that talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free device, causes more driver impairment than a 0.08 BAC. A 2001 American Automobile Association study found several other in-car distractions that also caused more impairment, including eating, adjusting a radio or CD player, and having kids in the backseat.

Since society’s ultimate goals are to reduce driver impairment and maximize highway safety, we should be punishing reckless driving more consistently. It shouldn’t matter if it’s caused by alcohol, sleep deprivation, prescription medication, text messaging, or road rage. If lawmakers want to stick it to dangerous drivers who threaten everyone else on the road, they can dial up the civil and criminal liability for reckless driving, especially in cases that result in injury or property damage.

Eliminating DUI & drunk driving laws may sound radical at first blush, but it would put the focus back on behavior, where it belongs.

The punishable act should be violating road rules or causing an accident, not the factors that led to those offenses.

Singling out alcohol impairment & persons with a certain BAC for extra punishment maybe is not about making the roads safer. It may be because of a lingering hostility toward demon rum.

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