KAKE Television reports on a new bill in the Kansas House of Representatives. The title of the story is Bill Could Bring Major Changes To Kansas DUI Laws.
The bill is House Bill 2263.
As reported by KAKE, the bill contains the idea of “impairment to the slightest degree.” The specific language in the bill is “No person shall operate or attempt to operate any vehicle within this state while … under the influence of a combination of alcohol and any drug or drugs to a degree that …”
Then comes the language in the existing law: “renders the person incapable of safely driving a vehicle.”
The proposed change is “impairs the person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle to the slightest degree.” (emphasis added)
No doubt the goal of this bill is to reduce the likelihood that Kansans will encounter dangerous drivers who aren’t able to safely operate their automobiles. That’s a good thing. But sometimes increasing penalties for something can have unintended consequences.
Mark R. Crovelli offers a look at the decision-making that accompanies drinking and driving in his article Drunk Driving Laws Cause Drunk Driving Accidents:
It then occurred to me that I wasn’t thinking about the costs of drunk driving in the right way, because I was only considering one cost of drunk driving. Under our current drunk driving laws, however, there is an additional cost that every drunk driver is certainly aware of; namely, getting caught drunk driving. The drunk driver is thus faced with two serious costs to consider: 1) dying in a fiery crash, and 2) getting caught by the police and going to jail. The cost of getting caught drunk driving and going to jail, moreover, is drastically increased if the driver chooses to drive in a manner that draws attention to himself — like driving ten miles per hour — even if the driver knows that driving slowly is the safer thing to do.
So, the drunk driver is faced with the following choices: 1) drive slowly and safely, and almost certainly get arrested and go to jail for drunk driving, or 2) drive the speed limit, and have a decent chance of not getting arrested, although this increases one’s chances of getting in an accident. Understandably, many drunk drivers choose the latter alternative, simply because the chance of arrest and jail time is a certainty, whereas the chance of a fiery crash is only a distant risk.
Do drivers go through this type of decision-making process in Kansas? What — do all the cars in the parking lots of bars and taverns belong to designated drivers only? Of course not. There’s a balance here, and no matter how well-intentioned a law may be, it has the potential for causing unforeseen behavior.
This crackdown on driving while even slightly impaired is at cross purposes with one of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer‘s initiatives, which is to create entertainment zones where the drinking of alcoholic beverages can happen on the streets — while walking about, of course, not while driving. But undoubtedly this practice would lead to more people making the decision illustrated above, only now with the line drawn more strictly, and the penalties more severe.
Background: Lew Rockwell raises the same point in part of a broader article Legalize Drunk Driving.