Last week, The Washington Post ran an article about a woman arrested for DUI in D.C. The story indicates that she failed a field sobriety test according to the arresting officer, even though her blood alcohol content registered at .03. The District has a zero tolerance law, which gives police leeway to declare a driver impaired even below the .08 legal limit. The remaining details of the case aren’t the point I’m leading to, but an explanation might help. Kip at A Stitch in Haste had the most unique, and ultimately compelling, argument concerning the case. Consider:
But if your complaint is that DUI laws deprive you of your supposed constitutional right to have “just two beers” or “just one glass” and then hurl a multi-ton slab of metal down public roads at lethal speeds, then you have exceeded the threshold of logic and are no longer driving while libertarian.
Perhaps I’m biased because I don’t drink, but that makes sense to me. That doesn’t mean everyone who has one drink and then drives will (or should) be arrested, just that the person is altering the situation against himself. There are others on the road who are 0% impaired by alcohol. Don’t like it? Don’t drink and drive. So, I think Kip’s right, even though .03 is less than .08. But I digress.
My point is that some commenters jumped on Kip regarding his defense of the District. I posted this comment in response to some of the more incredulous individuals.
The article does go on to mention a side effect of the law. Ms. Bolton now spends her evenings out in Virginia. The experiment of zero tolerance is having a foreseeable effect. Should the residents of the District decide this is unacceptable, they can vote for officials who will change the laws.
It seems it didn’t even take that long for local government officials to act. Consider:
The D.C. Council yesterday overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation to clarify the city’s policy on drunken driving.
In a 9-3 vote, the council passed a bill stating that anyone with a blood alcohol level under .05 is not presumed to be under the influence. Those with a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08 are presumed to be neither drunk nor sober.
The bill now goes to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has criticized the legislation as being hastily written and potentially damaging to the District’s drunken-driving laws.
Mr. Williams said he will review the legislation over the next 10 days before deciding whether to sign or veto it.
“I wanted to keep our law so that people who want to come into D.C. to partake responsibly in the vitality of our city can do so,” said council member Carol Schwartz, the at-large Republican who introduced the bill.
You may applaud me now.
Seriously, this is how government works. I’m cynical about government like everyone else, but I’m not so cynical that I think it can’t change. We get the government we deserve when we don’t hold our elected officials accountable. Put pressure on them, whether through newspaper articles, telephone calls, or blogging, and disagreeable policies can change. I still don’t have a significant issue with the original law, but it’s encouraging to see that government isn’t a kingdom, unresponsive to the governed. Representative government works.
Even in D.C.