From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 23 - 2/1/01
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Donít Hold Your Breath

Though I spent about two decades doing it, you'd be hard pressed now to find someone more against the notion of drunk driving than me. None more righteous than the reformed they say.

I've investigated some vehicular homicides, the crying tires, the busted glass, where the drunk drivers responsible are charged with killing either passengers in their own cars or people in other cars or both. Some of these unfortunate people who die with such extreme violence are children. For some reason I've never figured out, the drunk drivers frequently seem to survive the crash. I applaud efforts by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other such groups to get people to take this issue more seriously.

For most of its existence as a criminal offense, drunk driving has been looked at with a wink and a shrug, good ol' boys (and girls) just having a good ol' time with some unfortunate consequences for the dearly departed.

I do not, however, think the open-container bill currently being debated in the Wyoming Legislature will do anything to curb drunk driving. The sponsors of this bill are no doubt well-intended, but they have chosen a ridiculously roundabout way of trying to get at a problem. Almost like they were more interested in talking passionately about the subject rather than actually doing something to move us toward a remedy.

Had the Legislature been truly serious about this issue beyond mere appearances, it would have more warmly embraced lowering the blood-alcohol limit to .08. That measure died a dark and lonely death in committee.

If, however, those same sponsors were looking for a good way to extend another meddling hand of government into our lives, they certainly came up with a good one. Not a big legal clampdown, mind you, recognizable by even the dimmest as a gross extension of the state's power.

Instead it's one of those tiny incremental expansions of control that's discernible but too small to get in a lather about. Plus to help sooth the conscience, it comes wrapped in the pretty paper of maybe saving lives.

Before you know it, they've got random roadblocks set up to search your car for open containers with specially trained dogs to sniff them out. Cans of soda pop are confused at first glance with cans of beer, vehicles are pulled over for possible violations, and the trust and patience we have with law enforcement further erodes.

There's actually two versions of the open-container bill. One makes it illegal for drivers and passengers to have open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle. A less strict version will make it illegal for drivers only.

Either version seems like a nightmare of enforcement (or a dream come true depending on your viewpoint). The stricter bill would jeopardize the concept of the designated driver - the voluntarily sober person who drives his drinking buddies home safely. Here is a good idea people have been willing to accept which I'm sure has actually reduced drunken accidents.

With passage of the open-container bill, such designated drivers become subject to arrest should an open-container be found somewhere in the car. There's talk of an amendment to protect designated drivers, but an amendment cannot improve an already fatally flawed bill.

And at the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, what exactly is an open-container? Is the beer can from two weeks ago that's still rolling around under the backseat considered to be an open container? If I borrow someone's car, do I need to search it first to ensure there's no open containers hiding out? At what point does an open container become an empty container?

If the Legislature really wanted to do something about drunk driving, it would consider bills to increase the punishment for that crime. Or it would at least insist the current laws be enforced more rigorously, prosecuted more forcefully, and sentenced more sternly.

The Legislature might want to help set up more treatment centers for alcoholics or even consider ways to keep young people from thinking the consumption of too much alcohol is an acceptable behavior.

But that's only if the Legislature actually wanted to do something rather than just talk about it. Don't hold your breath.

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