Like New Year’s resolutions and champagne toasts, the annual year-end pitch by the American Beverage Institute has arrived.
Each December, the industry group pushes the idea that sobriety checkpoints are to be avoided. And not in the sense some of us hope to avoid them — after we have been sipping a cocktail.
No, the American Beverage Institute argues that the police tactic of snaring drunk drivers by roadblock has the unfair consequence “to scare responsible alcohol consumers out of having even a single drink.”
I doubt that, but I believe there is a valuable “fear-of-the-law” impact achieved through the police efforts.
“Little more than a PR stunt” is how the institute describes the checkpoints, arguing they are ineffective compared with roving patrols. They also say they are too expensive and unfairly target moderate drinkers.
A colleague (who recently reported a lengthy piece on checkpoints) put it best: “They don’t have a swizzle stick to stand on.”
The institute is correct with some of its assertions. Checkpoints are expensive and don’t statistically stop many drunks. But a glaring problem is the institute also winds itself into arguing opposing points.
On one hand, they say that sobriety checkpoints do not deter people from drinking and driving and therefore are not useful, citing several studies.
But they also argue that sobriety checkpoints will push the one-glass-of-wine-with-dinner crowd into teetotaler status. So is it a deterrent or not, and to what extent?
They also point to distracted driving — like people texting — as a growing culprit in accidents. That’s the ol’ bait and switch. Both are societal problems: No fair subbing one for the other when your first argument falters.
The institute deserves credit for raising the discussion on many drinking/driving issues, including its push to maintain discretion for judges so they may treat repeat DUI offenders more harshly and decide who should be subject to ignition locks.
But the checkpoint argument places the American Beverage Institute perilously close to appearing like they approve of the just-a-little-drunk driver being on the road. They most certainly do not. But it’s a slippery slope as they seek to protect the rights of drinking customers of the restaurants the institute represents.
Attitudes about drinking are like most attributes of healthy living, best formed long before the person is legally able to drink or drive, much less old enough to risk the danger of combining the two.
Maybe if the institute focused less on what happens after people drink and more on working to raise socially responsible drinkers from an early age, they’d provide a greater service to society and its members.