Thursday, March 24, 2005


Perhaps we should have labeling of alcoholic beverages. By that I mean compulsory labeling. Budweiser can do this voluntarily, but that is not likely.

I suggest that each alocholic beverage container be labeled to show the number of servings (12 ounce beer; or one ounce spirits; or four ounce wine) that it generally takes for a 150 pound person to have in the blood stream, to be likely to have a .08% blood alcohol concentration. Three beers; three shots; three four-ounce glasses of wine. We could require a black box on booze. In the case of Budweiser, for example, the numeral "3" would appear in large type and a logo showing a driver prohibited from driving.

In places where alcohol is served by the drink, each drink could be accompanied by a tag with the black box on it. Some margaritas might have the numeral "1." Some "beer" comes with 8% alcohol by volume; so a 12-ounce draft should have a label or tag with a black box and the numeral "1 1/2" on it.

Yes, this is a restriction on the right to do a lawful business. Yes, it is a liberal proposal, which injects government control into business. However, it is not prohibition; and it is not a teetotal measure. This proposal would result in a constant reminder to the server and to the served as to how many are too many to get behind the wheel. We cannot entirely stop drunken driving; and we cannot effectively stop drinking and driving. We can reduce driving while impaired, and this proposal may be one small step in that direction. Is it worth the loss of liberty entailed? Is it worth the intrusion into the business of sale of alcoholic beverages, a lawful enterprise? Of paramount importance, would it have any beneficial effect? Toss the idea?

A Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese croissant, 4.5 ounce size, has 430 calories, 280 of which come from fat. I know because it says so on the wrapping. Why should the business of selling these breakfast biscuits, frozen for use at home, harmful, if at all, to no one except the consumer, be regulated more than the sale of alcoholic beverages?

We have discovered after decades of experience with DWI laws, that deterrence has a limit. Increase of punishment does not do the job when the punishment gets so severe that we have nullification (officers may become reluctant to apprehend and arrest; prosecutors may become reluctant to prosecute for the full offense; and Judges may be reluctant to judge offenders guilty, or may be reluctant to impose the punishment prescribed by law; and in jury cases the jury may be reluctant to find guilt, on the theory that "but for the grace of . . .").

Our attack on driving while impaired should focus on prevention by education, and deterrence by a high likelihood of apprehension, prosecution and conviction. DWI roadblocks are an unreasonable intrusion and result in some paying the penalty for the many. We could place radar-video cameras on our streets and put a practical stop to dangerous driving (including impaired driving). We could put the results on line, so that the public could have confidence in the administration of this part of our criminal laws. Take the officers out of the cherry pickers, and get rid of the mannequin officers. Use modern technology to apprehend the guilty and to establish BIG CITIZEN oversight of the criminal process. No more "May I see your papers?" No more unbridled discretion in petty officers. Rather than enslave us, the machine, technology, vigilantly used, can set us freer.

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