Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scarlet Numbers

Washington State Republican Senator Mike Carrell is sponsoring legislation to mandate that people convicted of Driving Under the Influence have to purchase bright yellow license plates for their vehicle, and display them for the first year after their driving privileges are restored. Needless to say, there has been some controversy surrounding the idea, and not everyone is a fan.

"We view alcohol problems as an illness, so why don't we shame someone for kidney stones? Why don't we say, 'Suck it up, pull up your bootstraps and get rid of those kidney stones?' "
Patrick Hart, Seattle psychotherapist and substance-abuse counselor.
The comparison here is misplaced. There is no drive to shame the entire population of alcoholics - no one is proposing that simply having a drinking problem should mean special plates on one's car. And alcoholism, like kidney stones, can be considered an illness, while DUI is a behavior, and is pretty much separate from the disease of alcoholism. A person can be driving a car with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their bloodstream without being an alcoholic, and a person can be an alcoholic for decades without ever having been intoxicated behind the wheel.

Hart is correct in that its unrealistic, and perhaps even patently unfair, to expect alcoholics to just up and quit cold turkey. But in some quarters, this has metastasized into an overall understanding that alcoholics are so helpless in the face of their disorder that they can't even be expected to take the simplest steps to avoid hurting others. Hart notes, correctly, that "[... T]here's no evidence that anyone ever said, 'I am going to go out and get a DUI.' " But I bet that you could find plenty of instances where someone said, "I'm going to go over to this cool bar I know and have a drink or two," with the understanding that they were going to drive over there, and without having made a plan to get home without having to drive back.

There are any number of objections to special plates for DUI drivers. Like the fact that they're unlikely to be of any real use to other drivers, outside of making them feel a little more prepared, and therefore, aren't worth the expense of putting the program in place. You're unlikely to see special plates on an oncoming car before he crosses into your lane. And defensive driving means keeping an eye on everyone on the road, not just the one guy with the special plates. Or, the obvious one, that Senator Carrell's bill seems more about punishing people who have already served their time than it is about public safety. But I don't think the idea that it's not helpful to the DUI drivers themselves holds much water. After all, prison is hardly an environment that helps car thieves learn new job skills.

1 comment:

ben said...

What an ass hat. Why doesn't he sponsor some urban planning and public transportation?