Even the best of causes can be tainted by the manner in which proponents achieve their goals.
The push by Congress and President Bill Clinton to help keep the inebriated from driving is one example. Recent legislative action aimed at lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08 was spurred by the well-meaning intentions of groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The problem in bringing this change about arises because laws regulating legal blood alcohol limits are ultimately decided by the states not the federal government. To bring about this change quickly Congress has told the states that unless they lower the blood alcohol limits they won't receive federal transportation money. This would bring to a halt most of the major highway work plans throughout the country, a prospect that few state legislators or governors would hate to have to explain to their constituents.
What this amounts to is legalized blackmail on the part of the federal government. Without debating the merits of lowering the legal blood alcohol limit, the practice of threatening to withhold federal money unless a state enacts a specific law is an unseemly practice.
Congress used a similar route when it wanted the states to raise their drinking ages to 21. Faced with the threat of federal transportation funds being pulled, the states buckled under and raised the drinking age with little or no fuss.
The other disturbing aspect of the situation is that while setting a new blood alcohol limit at .08 might make some social drinkers a little more careful, it will probably do nothing to deter the chronic drunken drivers. It's the hard-core drinker-drivers, those who have been jailed and through treatment more than once, who often pose the greatest threat to others on the road. Some people are going to put others at risk by driving regardless of whether they have a license or the threat of jail. Why not aim state and federal efforts at getting these problem drinkers off the road?
Drunken driving is a serious problem but state legislatures are qualified to handle it. Let's hope the federal government doesn't make a practice of such threats.
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