The Instigator
KevinL75
Pro (for)
Winning
43 Points
The Contender
clsmooth
Con (against)
Losing
33 Points

Drunk Driving Should Be Treated Legally As Potential Vehicular Manslaughter

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/13/2007 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,231 times Debate No: 362
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (29)
Votes (24)

 

KevinL75

Pro

To my knowledge, there is currently no concept in the U.S. legal system akin to "potential vehicular manslaughter." I propose that there should be such a concept, and it should apply to those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

Before I get to the crux of my argument, I should clarify something about what I mean when I say DUI. I do not believe that there should be an absolute standard for determining what constitutes DUI, such as a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. An habitual alcoholic could easily be unimpaired with a BAC above the legal limit, whereas a first-timer who hadn't eaten anything all day could be impaired below the legal limit. The determination should be made by a field sobriety test.

When one drives under the influence, I propose that this is akin to firing a gun in the dark. Whether or not someone is harmed by either action is largely determined by luck. If a drunk driver doesn't happen to pass any pedestrians or other vehicles on his or her route, he or she simply got lucky.

I am uncomfortable with the notion that drunk drivers who are smiled upon by luck are treated less severely than drunk drivers who are not. Let us conduct a thought experiment using two drunk drivers, who are both "impaired" (assuming we can all agree on this definition, which I know is a large assumption.) We'll call these drivers Jack and Jill.

Jack drives 10 blocks from a party toward his apartment, and doesn't pass any pedestrians or other vehicles. He is pulled over, given a field sobriety test, and found to be guilty of DUI.

Jill drives 10 blocks from a party toward her apartment, and encounters a pedestrian crossing the street. Due to her decreased reaction time, she hits and kills this pedestrian. She is given a field sobriety test, and also found to be DUI.

Under the current system, these two drivers are treated completely differently. I propose that if Jack were faced with the same situation Jill was, he would have also killed the pedestrian. Yet he is given a much lighter punishment under the current system. I believe they should be treated equally, because the only difference between them was how lucky they were when driving drunk.
clsmooth

Con

I share your concern that drunk driving is not treated as seriously as it should be. However, I am also concerned about the authority and discretion given to the government (police) with this issue. Therefore, I propose an alternative deterrent.

First and foremost, I find no constitutional basis for any kind of national laws against drunk driving. So when you talk about universality, I can only accept that if it were adopted, voluntarily and with no coercion, by the state governments, who do have proper jurisdiction on this issue.

As you admit, there is simply no good measure of driver impairment. Blood-Alcohol-Level (BAC) isn't accurate, but surely a "field sobriety test" is even less so. It gives far too much discretion to the arresting officer.

Here is what I propose states do to combat the risks of impaired driving: ENACT EXTREMELY STRICT PENALTIES FOR FOR AT-FAULT DRIVERS WHO DAMAGE PROPERTY OR INJURE PEOPLE WITH EVEN A MINIMAL AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL IN THEIR SYSTEM.

The point of this approach is that individuals should determine for themselves when they've had too much to drink. But if they drive after having even a few beers, they had better make sure they are not impaired -- because if they are at-fault in an accident, they would be SEVERELY punished.

If every alcohol-related traffic accident resulted in a minimum sentence of 90 days in jail, steep fines, and a six-month loss of driver's license, for example, how many people would drive when they had had too much to drink? If the second offense resulted in permanent suspension of driving privileges along with six months to a year in jail, then how many repeat offenders would there be? And of course, if anyone is killed in such an accident, then the crime should be treated like a regular homicide.
Debate Round No. 1
KevinL75

Pro

Your argument rests on the idea that your proposed policy will be an effective deterrent. I don't agree that it will. Even if the penalties for damaging property or individuals were made to be much more severe, there is still the question of what happens to the individual who gets lucky, and does not damage either property or individuals.

If your average drunk driver believes that he or she will not encounter any people or property on the road (and I don't think it's unreasonable to assume at least a portion of drunk drivers are driving on that assumption,) he or she is not affected by your deterrent.

If, however, even drunk drivers who do NOT damage property or individuals are severely punished, the deterrent effect reaches all potential drunk drivers, and is more likely to curb drunk driving on the whole.

As far as the discretion being given to arresting officers, I share this concern, but I believe it is a necessary evil in this situation, and not entirely without precedent. Police officers are, for example, given the right to search an individual's car if they can cite probable cause, a concept which also gives officers a sizable amount of discretion.

If there is a question over an officer's conduct, it will be addressed at trial - this is how the system works with regard to issues like probable cause, and how it would work with regard to administering field sobriety tests. Now that most police cars are equipped with on-board cameras, and the procedure for administering field sobriety tests is relatively standardized, the potential for abuse is minimal, and there is already a system in place to address cases of potential abuse.
clsmooth

Con

I believe my policy would be a deterrent. After all, people drunk drive now because the penalties are so light. You, too, are advocating stricter penalties. It's just that you want penalties where there is no damage to people or property -- i.e. where no real "crime" has been committed at all. If people knew that an alcohol-related accident would result in jail time, they would be much less likely to drive while impaired. And if they are in fact able to drive without damaging property or human life, then they've done nothing criminal, in my eyes.

Furthermore, how do you propose to catch impaired drivers who have not damaged property or injured people? You mention "probable cause" -- what would constitute "probable cause" for pulling over a car? "Probable cause" should be treaded very lightly, and what you're suggesting here gives too much discretion where it is not needed. The purpose of government should be to protect people and their property from the initiation of force. Yes, drunk driving is risky, but the real "crime" is when property or people are damaged. People will always make bad decisions, but on the whole, individuals know better when they've had "too much" than a universally applied BAC or an entirely discretionary FST (field sobriety test). My personal limit is zero -- if I have even one beer, my wife is driving -- I just don't take any risk as far as this is concerned. But others are able to drive after having much more without any negative consequences. If they knew an accident would result in stiff penalties, though, they would make darn sure they were safe to drive before putting the key in the ignition.
Debate Round No. 2
KevinL75

Pro

I'd like to begin by addressing your assertion that most individuals know when they've had "too much" better than any universal standard. I completely agree, but the problem is that the individuals affected by this proposed policy change would likely not fall into the category of "most individuals." For those people who do choose to drive while drunk, I think we all agree that there has to be some kind of measure to determine whether or not they're DUI.

As far as the probably cause for pulling over a vehicle, I'm not proposing a change in that arena - the standard would still include things like erratic driving, etc. It seems to me, though, that the issue of BAC vs. FST is a tangent from the real issue at hand - neither system is perfect, and the best solution is probably to determine whether or not an individual is DUI using a combination of both.

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea that no "crime" has been committed when someone drives under the influence but does not do damage to anyone or anything. My argument is to some extent counterintuitive, but I'd like to draw an analogy again to guns. I stated in my original argument that driving under the influence is like firing a gun in the dark.

In many states, it is illegal to fire a gun within city limits, regardless of whether or not the bullet strikes another individual. The rationale for this is that there is a heightened risk to others when firing a gun in an urban area, and it is better overall for public safety to make it illegal to discharge a firearm in an urban area.

My proposal for punishing drunk drivers follows the same logic. Someone who is truly DUI is only saved from damaging a person or property by luck.

You said: "And if they are in fact able to drive without damaging property or human life, then they've done nothing criminal, in my eyes."

My proposal is not attempting to punish those who are ABLE to drive without damaging property or human life - it's attempting to punish those who simply did not encounter a situation in which they would damage property or human life. Let me close with one final example, using our friend Jack again.

Jack is driving while under the influence of alcohol - let's assume there's no doubt about that. In this state, Jack is prone to running red lights to save time. On his way home, he runs three red lights with no regard to opposing traffic, but does not hit any other cars or pedestrians when he does so. The only reason Jack isn't arrested and tried for homicide is that he was lucky. Isn't he just as much of a danger to public safety regardless of whether he hits another car or a person while running those red lights?
clsmooth

Con

I disagree with your first paragraph. If there is no damage or injury, then there is no crime. If there is damage or injury, and there is alcohol involved, then it is reasonable to assume the alcohol played a role and that the damage was criminal instead of just an "accident." In this case, the person should be punished and made to pay restitution. Repeat offenders should be barred from driving at all, for good. That is more than enough of a deterrent, and it deals with actual injury, instead of further empowering the police state to conduct unreasonable searches in violation of the fourth amendment, when there is no victim! There cannot be a legitimate crime without a victim.

By your logic, the fact that I may present a "risk" is a crime itself. Well, driving is risky, even when the driver is in no way intoxicated. Why not just make that a crime? It is agreed that some level of alcohol increases the risk, but we agree that the level is different for different people. You admit a Blood Alcohol Test is not a good measure of impairment, and think subjective Field Sobriety Test is better. The police should spend their time dealing with actual crimes -- crimes in which there are victims. Not "crimes" where there simply MIGHT be victims.

In your example, Jack committed no crime because no one was injured. The only reason he is not tried for homicide is that he didn't kill anyone -- and that's a pretty good reason to not be arrested for homicide in my book! There is no such thing as "luck" -- that's a superstition. And besides, if the penalty for damaging people or property while under the influence was as I propose -- guaranteed jail time, fines, and suspension of your license -- then Jack may have thought twice before getting behind the wheel. He does so now because the penalties, even for vehicular "manslaughter" (murder, really, I'm sure you agree) is so light.
Debate Round No. 3
29 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by mikelwallace 6 years ago
mikelwallace
I will give you my view, I agree that the central government should be restricted, but I believe the state and local governments should have the right, with the voice of the people, to implement laws that would criminalize things like drunk driving in order to keep its citizens safe.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
I would prefer private property owners to regulate property and absorb the damages if they fail to provide safety.

But I'll play along: Firing a gun is an obvious act. Man fired gun. True or false?

But drunk driving is an opinion crime. Who is to say what constitutes a risky level of intoxication? It is not cut and dry like someone firing a gun.

Whenever you have this ambiguity -- like the "right" to be "safe" -- you empower government, and government is the entity that robs and murders with impunity. Ironic, isn't it?
Posted by mikelwallace 6 years ago
mikelwallace
Would you prioritize protecting potentially innocent people from being victimized by someone drinking behind the wheel, or would you prefer to protect the individual who is driving drunk to his right to do that?
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
You do not have the right to be "safe." Who is to define safety? You only have a right to not be aggressed against. The government can't protect you from all possible risks in life.
Posted by mikelwallace 6 years ago
mikelwallace
i think it is safe to say you are overanalyzing this thing, you are free to do as you please as long as you do not infringe upon the rights of others-on that i agree with you-if you are driving drunk, you are infringing on the rights of others to be safe on the road that they have the right to be on. this is simple to me, i am not so scared of the federal government that im gonna defend a person's right to run around with a loaded gun or drive drunk over just allowing there to be law and order. anarchy would not be good my friend.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
If the sidewalk were privately owned (as all property should be), then again, it would be an infringement on private property.

See my point: The existence of public property leads to the "need" for victimless crimes.

But even on a public sidewalk, I have to wonder how the gun could be fired without the bullet traveling onto someone else's private property. And is a silencer being used? Otherwise, disturbing the peace would be a legitimate crime.
Posted by mikelwallace 6 years ago
mikelwallace
ok, on a sidewalk in front of a strip mall then-the point is the same. others rights are being infringed upon wether there is a victim or not.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
The mall is not a public place. It is private property. You can't do as you please at the mall. "Firing a gun on someone else's property without permission" is a legitimate law, because you are initiating force against the property owner's property rights.
Posted by mikelwallace 6 years ago
mikelwallace
Im sorry there just is not any logic there. If I walk into a mall and begin firing a gun into the air, would you expect the police to stand around and just wait for a bullet to hit someone before they take action, that is not protecting the other citizens. I have more of a right to not have my life at risk cause some idiot drives drunk then that idiot has to be drunk on the road. The private property argument does not work, that is completely different from a road that I have a right to because I am a tax paying citizen.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
Gambling, drug use, assisted suicide, sodomy, obscenity, prostitution, and all forms of contraception should be legal, and I am against curfew laws. We don't need a Revolution in property rights to restore/defend those freedoms.

So long as there is a public, I am okay with laws against loitering (certainly, loitering on private property should be a crime) and public intoxication.

As for sex ed: I find public schools so criminal, that debating what is/should be taught is like debating which type of weapon the murderer should use to kill my grandma -- I don't want him to kill my grandma! But the least-bad of all bad solutions is to let local communities decide without interference from the state or federal government.

That leaves only seatbelt laws. I'm against them. And I ALWAYS put my seatbelt on as soon as I get in my car. The public roads and shared liability make a good cause for seatbelt laws -- and I'm not radically opposed to them (it's such a small issue) -- but if I were a state senator, I would vote against renewing a law mandating them.
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