Let’s begin with a clear stipulation: People who drink shouldn’t drive.
That being said, the issue becomes more complex. How does society intervene to prevent drinking and driving, and what level of regulation is tolerable? For more than a century, certain individuals and groups in our midst have believed that the answer is to ban drinking altogether. We’ve tried that solution once (Prohibition), and it didn’t work.
Even so, 33 states still allow municipalities to ban alcohol, and roughly 10% of the adult population of America lives in areas that are “dry.” The anti-alcohol forces in these areas fervently believe they are doing the right thing. There are currently four dry counties in Florida. Suwanee County, where my stepson lives, was dry until a 2011 referendum which approved the sale of alcohol by a margin of three to one. Although many residents believed that the roads were safer with the alcohol ban, the reality was that numerous towns bordered wet counties; people would simply drive over the county line, drink to excess, and cause mayhem on their way back home.
The American Association of Wine Economists has recently come out with a study suggesting that road deaths are lower in areas that ban hard liquor but allow the sale of beer and wine. Maybe so, but this seems self-serving in the extreme. Even the AAWE concedes that alcohol-related road fatalities are higher in areas with more elevated levels of alcohol consumption.
If you doubt this, look at the case of France. When I first started visiting the country in the 1970s, you were taking your life in your hands if you got behind the wheel at any time. In the past decade, France has instituted the most Draconian set of drinking and driving laws in the world—if you’re stopped by the police after consuming even a glass of wine, you go to jail. The restaurant business has suffered severely, but highway deaths are down for nine straight years.
Does this mean we should ban alcohol consumption altogether, as MADD and others want us to do? While my answer is no, we may soon arrive at a point where there is a drinking and a non-drinking class in this country. The drinkers may well be distinguished economically not by the taxes or penalties they pay, but by the surcharges incurred by them in compensating others for driving them around.