Readers of the Minneapolis StarTribune’s recent series on drunken driving, “Smashed,” will have been treated to, more than anything else, another heavy dose of that newspaper’s humbug editorial policy holding that any tax imaginable, funding more governmental activity of any stripe, will bring us inevitably closer to a perfect world. The editors have been unerringly guided by this philosophy from the Strib’s recent fall in market value from approximately $1.5 billion, to less than $500 million, to looming bankruptcy, which shows...dedication.
Sure enough, after the softening up process administered over many installments by “Smashed” was completed, came the inevitable pitch last Sunday, “Tax alcohol, save lives,” by Stephen Simon, chairman of the Minnesota Criminal Justice System DWI Task Force, and Chelsea Baker, research assistant to that outfit.
These two are touting a “modest” 10 cent per drink increase in Minnesota’s alcohol tax, to “fund the criminal justice system to more aggressively deal with alcohol-related crimes.” Excessive alcohol consumption, they claim, costs Minnesotans $4.5 billion a year while the state recovers a mere $234 million of these costs through alcohol taxes.
That seems like a bad deal for the state, but on the other hand, why should it be compenstated for damages, property, medical, etc., which are incurred by individuals? The cost of a DWI to the individual in today’s dollars is close to $25,000, much of which is pocketed by government. There are 35,000 of these arrests per year according to the Simon/Becker piece, so what has happened to these dollars, one wonders? Why couldn’t they go towards bigger, more aggresive government? Or are they already, perhaps creating and feeding an appetite?
Simon and Becker “estimate” that people will drive drunk 50 to 100 times before getting caught (without giving the slightest evidence for the assertion), so that they are unafraid of getting caught. Government work must pay even better up in the Twin Cities. Drinkers I know are terrified of getting a DWI, not having $25,000 to spare, nor anxious to go through the dreadful experience. Furthermore, the blood alcohol limit is now set at .08, about where a small woman will be after one or two glasses of wine – social drinking. It is a rare driver who gives evidence of drinking at that level of consumption, so of course they are not arrested often.
Dangerous impairment, that which causes most alcohol-related accidents, sets in at about .15 BAC. Those driving that drunk will be picked up well before their 100th trip, and they are, quite often. They are not afraid of getting caught because they are alcoholics who lack any kind of rational judgement. Ten cents or a dollar per drink worth of additional government won’t change that one whit. And by the way, according to this article, moderate drinking is 14 drinks per week, although we aren’t told who set that standard. That’s $74 per year additional tax.
What is generally lost in these discussions of how alcohol-related accidents are such a menace requiring higher taxes is that the vast majority of crashes are caused not by drunkeness, but 26% careless driving, 20% failure to yield, 10% following too close, 9% speeding, 4% stop light violations, and 3% obscured vision.* And that was ten years ago. Where do you suppose blabbing or texting on a cell phone stands in that list now?
A serious concern for public safety, rather than a simple lust for higher taxes, would start with these factors first. You’re not allowed to hold your breath.
*Cited from MN Dpt. Pub. Safety Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 1999 pg. 14, in Judge Dennis Chaleen’s monograph, “The MADD’s SADD’s, NORP’s, Lawmakers, .08 and you.”