This Halloween, a new law in the state of Michigan takes effect. Officially, it’s known as the “High Blood Alcohol Content Enhanced Penalty” law, though most people call it by its nickname: the “Super Drunk” law. Essentially, the new law targets persons driving with a BAC of 0.17 or above and carries harsher penalties than regular drunk driving, to wit:
Under the new law, drunk drivers with a level of .17 or higher will face harsher punishment. Jail time will be doubled, a drivers license will be revoked for a minimum 45 days. Drivers who register .17 or higher will also face mandatory alcohol treatment and costs that could reach as high as $10,000.
According to Michigan ABC television station WJRT Channel 12, the “National Highway Traffic Safety is behind [the new law]. More than 40 states already passed the law and Michigan is one of them.” Strange that I haven’t heard of this before, especially if all but ten states have a similar law on the books. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, not including Michigan, indeed 42 states have increased penalties for drivers stopped with a BAC of between 0.15 and 0.20, depending on the state.
So I know what you’re probably thinking. “How could I possibly be against this?” Well, the truth is I’m actually not … not exactly, anyway. I’m not necessarily against having harsher penalties for different levels of intoxicated driving. My biggest problem with this law, and presumably it’s the same in the other states, is that while addressing the upper limit, it keeps the lower limit where it is, at 0.08, and also there continues to be “zero tolerance” areas that ignore the law and arrest people who are below 0.08 and also some jurisdictions that either have proposed or have already passed legislation allowing the arrest of people with a lower BAC. I’m just not sure any of this does much to actually stop people from driving drunk — the goal, one hopes — and it especially does nothing to stop the worst offenders. At least one Michigan newspaper agrees with me, writing In The Margins: ‘Super drunk’ law isn’t necessary, nor will it curb hard-core drunks.
To me the problem of the worst offenders driving drunk was never addressed by lowering the BAC. All that’s been accomplished is ruining the lives of more and more people. The argument is always, but what about the people who are hurt by drunk drivers? In a sense, that’s like asking “what about the people who might be accidentally shot during a robbery.” Making robbery illegal hasn’t stopped that problem, either, because people who will do stupid and illegal things will not stop just because the government says “hey you, stop.” Of course it would be great if everybody was responsible and didn’t get behind the wheel of their car when they’d had too much, but more and harsher penalties hasn’t worked before. Maybe it’s time to try a different approach?