Kansas DUI Law Change Could Backfire

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.

Sponsored by freshmen house member Aaron Jack and Olathe representative Lance Kinzer, the goal of the bill is to reduce inconsistencies in the current law, and also to increase penalties.

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.

3 Comments

  • Dianne Meyers -

    DUI laws in Kansas are already rediculous enough! They don’t need to be changed to be more stringent!

  • Anonymous -

    There is a third option that was left out of the article; don’t drink and drive…perhaps we should look at using the increase in fines to provide people with alternative modes of transportation

  • Not only can they arrest you on a subjective whim, there are parts of this law that will increase not only the fines but the costs of the other penalties in place. For instance, now an intoximeter is placed on a vehicle, and must be on for a year, even if the person sells their car and does not drive for the year. The cost of an intoximeter is at least $200 to install, must be calibrated every 30-60 days at another fee, and then will cost to be removed. This law is written to leave it on permanently, even if a family only has one car-every driver has to deal with it, the cost is on-going, and if you trade cars well there will be some more money for the state. And if you ever have engine problems, I imagine having the device on the car while being service will increase that bill.

    Now we all know it is tragic when a person is killed by a drunk driver, but still tragic if the person is not intoxicated. This is a bill to make the state some money, and to continue to protect me from myself.

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