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Anti-Drunk Driving Organizations Must be Reasonable to be Effective

Certain well-known anti-drunk driving organizations are widely accused of having neo-Prohibitionist agendas and fueling anti-alcohol hysteria. Regardless of whether such criticism is warranted, this blog post explores the concept of moral policing as it relates to operating under the influence (OUI), as well as other demonized social behaviors, such as smoking and consumption of fatty foods.

The “war on drunk driving” seems to appeal to the “harm principle.” Under the “harm principle,” no exercise of power over an individual is legitimate unless the purpose is to prevent harm to other people. A person should not be forced to act in a certain way simply because it’s for his own moral, physical or intellectual good.

Anti-drunk driving campaigns try to stay in line with that principle, with the basic message being: Drunk driving is bad because it can, and often does, hurt other people. Few would find that message to be offensive. These organizations draw criticism, however, when they appear to be against drinking generally, as opposed to drunk driving. For example, certain organizations have announced that fewer liquor stores will reduce crime, opposed sale of alcohol at fairs and cultural events, and argued that children should be raised in alcohol- free environments. Why the criticism? Likely, it is because they are now getting into an area of self-regarding conduct and imposing moral or personal preferences on other people. When the public becomes uneasy about the possibility of a modern- day temperance movement, such organizations tend to fly under the banner, “We are not an anti-alcohol organization.”

Anti-smoking campaigns follow the same blueprint, rallying around the dangers of second-hand smoke–harm to other people. Smoking bans were supposedly designed to protect non-smokers, particularly employees of bars or restaurants, from the harms associated with second-hand smoke. Anti-smoking campaigns refused to admit that the true purpose of smoking bans was to protect smokers from themselves–to marginalize or further de-normalize an otherwise legal activity.

The new battle is on obesity and trans-fat, but can it be justified under the same “harm principle” used in, what some would call, the anti-alcohol campaigns? Or, is it pure moral or health policing, an attempt to protect people from themselves? According to the New York Times and other sources, there are now studies that indicate a purported trend of “second-hand obesity.” Specifically, some doctors who have studied the issue say that exposure to obese people can make one become obese because one’s idea of acceptable body type comes from looking at others.

This Massachusetts OUI lawyer sincerely acknowledges that drunk- driving creates real dangers to other people. The point is that anti-drunk driving movements need to be careful to distinguish between two very distinct behaviors: being drunk, which, with some exceptions, only hurts oneself, and driving while drunk, which can and does hurt other people. As the “second-hand obesity” movement perhaps best illustrates, when society fails to make meaningful distinctions between conduct that only affects oneself and conduct that affects others, a very slippery slope is created.


If you have been charged with operating under the influence in Massachusetts, contact the Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, P.C. at 617-263-6800.