Is Drunk Driving Murder?

Philip B. Linke is a libertarian who has been driving drunk for 25 years. He clearly shows that it is possible to drink and drive successfully and he calls it “responsible drinking. ” (Lerner, 1) He believes that the measures of activists groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) “severely encroach upon the rights and liberty of people. ” Drunk driving is one of the most controversial offenses, one where drunk individuals knowingly put themselves behind a wheel that can wreak havoc. Americans love freedom, they love individual liberties, they love driving, and they love alcohol.

We are a society that condemns and tolerates drunk driving at the same time. “It is not unreasonable to require people to undergo great inconvenience to avoid killing other people. ” (Bonnie Steinbock) The problem of drunk driving has been persistent since the birth of the automobile in the late 19th century. People who drink and drive put lives at risk, they role the dice each time they get behind the wheel and horrible outcomes can be inevitable. Even with the amount of awareness and anti-drunk driving movements people still choose to remain oblivious to the facts.

People are not aware of the consequences or choose to ignore them completely. If you are drunk or even somewhat buzzed and choose to get behind the wheel, you should know that there could be fatal consequences. Today prosecutors are pushing to have drunk drivers who kill, be charged with the serious crime of murder for their mistakes. Even though a drunk driver usually does not have any intent to hurt anyone, only to get home safely from a bar, they can go to jail for murder. The argument in a case like this is whether or not the driver had the intent to get behind the wheel while drunk.

(Olian, Catherine. “Is It Murder? “) Many will say that the alcohol caused them to get behind the wheel, and no one but the driver can say whether or not that is true. Before recent years, the worst a drunk driver could of have been charged with was manslaughter but our nation is growing restless with the problem. Laws are getting stricter and law enforcement is cracking down on drunk drivers. Maybe this new tactic is being used as another way to inform the nation that the problem must stop. It kills too many to continue, especially with the amount of drivers on the road today.

The question to discuss is, what defines murder? Is it simply the intent to kill or is it much more than that? If someone is drunk, should we call it an accident? A big question that many people are asking today is whether or not drinking and driving should be constituted as murder. Drunk Driving causes an average of 13,000 deaths a year with many more accidents and injuries. The act of drunk driving is so common that an “accident” in which a death occurs happens about every 30 to 40 minutes in the United States. (Jones, Janice E. “Drunk Driving Laws.

“) It is a tragedy that happens too often and affects too many people to go unnoticed. With all the laws, protocols, and information about it the awareness continues to rise and the number of accidents remains the same. Many people are starting to believe that if the people of America want it to stop then we should start treating it as if it is a serious crime and not something so minor that drunk drivers will not hesitate to do it again. Drunk driving is subversively accepted by society because of alcohol’s role in our American culture.

This national disgrace has not only led to an accumulation of death over the years, but an acceptance of drunk driving as a viable action. Even with all measures and acts to this tragedy, it continues to be a part of our society and as a nation, we will have to change the way we think about public safety and our moral responsibilities on the road if it is to be ended. Drunk Driving should not be constituted as murder because the requirements of premeditation and intent are absent. History There has been drunk driving since the birth of first automobiles at the end of the 19th century.

The real problem began with Henry Ford’s Model T and the mass production of cars. People started to become aware of the drunk driving problem early on in the twentieth century. The first drunk driving law was passed in 1909, which was a $200 fine and six months imprisonment. There was a popular case in 1905 when Barbee Hook killed a woman named Margaret Birtwistle when she was crossing the street. Hook was charged with manslaughter but Hook’s lawyers successfully challenged the validity of the witness, proposing reasonable doubt, which lightened the sentence.

Two years later Hook drove into a crowd of people at an intersection in Los Angeles, he obviously did not learn his lesson. In the early years many defense lawyers would successfully work the legal system to free drunk drivers with as little as a fine and not even a suspension of the license. (Lerner, 17) The Temperance movement was in full effect in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Many people thought that drunk driving was an evil produced from “demon rum.

” (Lerner, 16) In 1919 the Volstead Act or the eighteenth amendment made the sale of alcohol illegal because many people believed that it was the source of all crime and evil. (One for the Road) During prohibition alcohol went underground and at the same time the drunk driving death toll decreased significantly. The prohibition era gave birth to bootlegging, bathtub gin, and the first mobster-run organized crime seen in America. (Lerner, 19) In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt pushed for repeal of the Volstead act because it “caused a rapid collapse of the moral authority of the sober republic.

” (Roosevelt) The 21st amendment overturned prohibition in 1933, which started the acceptance and tolerance of drunk driving. People were beginning to recognize alcoholism as a disease instead of a sin. (Lerner, 20) As a result the amount of drunk driving rose as well as its awareness. The difference between a drunk and a social drinker was established. A drunk drinks to get drunk while a social drinker limits him or herself and knows their limits. Before Rolla N. Harger’s invention of the drunkometer, police officers had to conduct a series of tests to determine whether or not someone was drunk.

The drunkometer was a heavy and less accurate than the Breathalyzer but served the same purpose measuring ones blood alcohol level. Before, officers assumed people were drunk which could only be used as one piece of evidence against them and therefore not definitive. (Lerner, Barron H. ) Evidence found on drunk drivers relied solely on the testimony of the police and only the drivers could dispute what happened. It was very frequent for police, prosecutors, and judges to either let drunk drivers off or reduce their charges. License suspensions and jail time were almost unheard of. (Lerner, Barron H.)

This meant that millions of Americans who could not walk a straight line for an officer at the time of arrest walked free without any consequence. Even after the release of the drunkometer, experienced lawyers continued to challenge testimonies. They were saying “machines were not accurate,” “experienced drivers could drive safely,” and that it was a “violation of constitutional rights to demand the use of a drunkometer. ” A series of experiments were conducted in 1934 by Herman Heise, he found that blood alcohol content (BAC) levels between . 01 and . 08 produced delayed reaction time and diminished judgment, attention, and control. .

05 BAC generally leads to an inability to process information and make rational decisions. His conclusion was that drunk drivers were 33 times more likely to be involved in a crash if their BAC was . 15 or more. (Alcohol and automobile crashes) Meanwhile in Europe the legal limit was . 05 and surprisingly the amount of drunk drivers on the road increased while the number of deaths decreased (Swedish Experiences Related to Drunk Driving. ) These new findings helped the American Medical Association make new guidelines that quickly became law.

The first regulation was if the person’s BAC was less than . 05%, there was no prosecution. Second, if greater than . 15% the person would be prosecuted as under the influence. Third, between . 05% and . 15% there would be a prosecution only if the circumstances and results of physical examination “give definite confirmation of such influence. ” Still, leniency toward drunk driving continued even with the felony law against it. Less than 6% of people charged with DUI (Driving Under the Influence) ever went to jail. (Lerner, Barron H.

) At this time public service announcements came out on TV and Radio about the dangers of drunk driving. Robert Young from Father Knows Best said “Those same few drinks that bring out the best in your personality, can only accentuate your worst driving habits. ” The 1950’s and 60’s were called the “golden age of drunk driving. ” Factors like postwar prosperity, the new highway system, declining restrictions on alcohol sales, and clever marketing promoted drinking and driving. (Lerner, Barron H. ) These factors overwhelmed efforts to identify, arrest, convict, and punish offenders.

Hugh Gravitt served only ten months in jail for killing Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, one of America’s most beloved writers. Lesser convictions often carried fines, payable to the local government, so judges would purposely lessen people’s convictions to make money. Police were lenient when making traffic stops because those they arrested would be freed anyway. (Lerner, Barron H. ) Robert F. Borkenstein, the chief of police science at Indiana University invented the Breathalyzer in 1954. This invention was the first step in acceptance as the standard technology for measuring BAC.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a nonprofit organization founded by Candy Lightner in 1980. A drunk driver with a BAC of . 20% killed her thirteen-year-old daughter. This man had five previous drunk driving convictions and only sentenced to two years in prison after the killing. MADD was the most successful of several anti-drunk driving organizations that were established at this time. (Blocker, Jack S. ) By 1983 a poll revealed that 84 percent of Americans had heard about MADD. Due to MADD, between 1981 and 1985, all fifty states strengthened their laws against drinking and driving.

(Blocker, Jack S. ) By the early 1990’s nearly all states had a minimum drinking age of twenty-one because of constant pressure from MADD. The group also popularized the term “designated driver,” which is commonly used today. MADD is the most successful alcohol reform movement in American history. (Blocker, Jack S. ) Current Laws There was once a time in America where drunk driving was a socially accepted form of murder. (Ronald Reagan). Today government officials and law enforcement strive to end this national dilemma and make it safe for the people of this country to drive.

Driving under the influence (DUI) is considered a crime when the driver consumes more alcohol than the legal limit and operates a motor vehicle. In 2000 congress set the legal limit to . 08 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) as the national standard for drunk driving, thanks to MADD. Before, most states had a legal limit of . 10%. In that year 16,653 people were killed in alcohol related crashes. This is 40 percent of all the people killed in automobile crashes, which rose 2 percent in one year. (Jones, Janice E. ) It was proven that lowering the legal limit from . 10 to . 08 has reduced the number of drunk driving accidents.

In 1988 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study in which they found that almost everyone at a . 08 BAC is impaired. The study suggests that it becomes a great deal harder to perform simple driving tasks that include changing lanes, judging reaction time, steering, and focusing. Many factors come into play when determining what a person’s blood alcohol level is like weight, gender, and medical conditions. Other measures beside the legal limit are used like a mandatory prison sentence or community service for first time and repeat offenders.

(NHTSA) Most drunk drivers will have their licenses revoked or be required to install an ignition interlock system which requires the driver to pass a breathalyzer test before the car will start. A breathalyzer is a device that measures a person’s BAC by breathing into a small tube. For law enforcement to assess whether or not a person is drunk they must conduct field sobriety tests on drivers they suspect of being drunk like walking in a straight line, reciting the alphabet backwards, and closing your eyes while you touch the tip of your nose.

All these laws and regulations have helped maintain control over what happens to drunk drivers but does not serve to prevent it completely; (Jones, Janice E. ) it is still an ongoing problem in America. What is Murder? According to Oxford University’s dictionary of policing murder is defined as the intentional killing of one person by another. There are different degrees of murder to determine the severity of a particular murder case. A capitol murder or a first-degree murder is the most serious form of murder that one can commit.

What makes this form different is that it involves premeditation before the murder, or deliberate planning. In other words the murderer shows that the murder was planned out and had a clear intent. An example would be if someone decided to kill a business rival by purchasing a gun and waiting for the victim in their home. Second-degree murder is the killing of another with malice or without a just cause. This is when someone commits a murder without premeditation, intentionally killing someone without planning to do so in advance.

A felony murder or third-degree murder is a killing that happens during the course of committing a felony. The murder is not planned out or intended, it is just a result of one committing another offense. An example is a person falling down the stairs and breaking their neck because someone else is committing a robbery. A person’s time in prison will vary depending on the degree of the murder he or she committed. The definition of manslaughter is where someone is unlawfully killed but without the intent required for murder.

Involuntary manslaughter is when someone causes the death of another while committing a low-level unlawful act. A death caused by a drunk driver is usually considered manslaughter because there was no intent but the driver would be guilty of “criminal negligence. ” (Degrees of Murder) How Can Drunk Driving Be Seen as Murder? A 60 minutes episode aired in 2009 with this exact title, it was about a case that happened in 2009 when a man by the name of Martin Heidgen killed a seven-year-old girl Katy Flynn and the limo driver on Katy’s parents wedding night.

He was driving with three times the legal limit (. 24) when he drove onto the highway in the wrong direction. Up until this case most drunk driving accidents in which a fatality occurred, brought the legal charge of manslaughter. When someone dies as a result of an accident and the usual sentence is probation for about 15-20 years. The district attorney, Kathleen Rice who was in charge of this case, argued that Martin had a “depraved indifference to human life. ” She also said he made the decision to get behind the wheel and deserves to be convicted with murder and not simply manslaughter.

The defendant argued that murder should be relegated to dangerous cold-blooded killers and not to someone who made the “unconscious” decision to drive while he was drunk. By definition there has to be some kind of intent when murder happens and Heidgen surely had no intent to kill anyone, he was just a kid who just graduated college and made a stupid decision. In the end Kathleen Rice won and Heidgen was charged with second-degree murder and charged with eighteen years to life. Although the district attorney and the parents felt that was still unfair.

Kathleen Rice argued that there is no difference between shooting someone point blank and killing someone in a drunk driving accident. Kathleen Rice still fights drunk driving today in many ways. She passed a law where there would be sobriety checkpoints on certain highways and a study showed that ten percent of drivers had admitted to drinking and driving within two weeks of being stopped. Drunk driving cannot be realistically considered murder because the defining characteristics of murder are not present in drunk driving accidents.

When police investigate a death they gather as much evidence as possible to explore all possible alternatives to determine the difference between murder and manslaughter. The reason why most drunk driving related deaths are defined as manslaughter is because of the alcohol. (B. H. Lerner) It is very arguable that most people driving drunk do not have any intent on hurting anyone else but many times when driving drunk such an outcome can be inevitable. One of the controversial questions argued in court during these trials is whether or not the drunk driver made the conscious decision to drive.

Many say that the alcohol itself caused them to get behind the wheel. (Heidgen) This is just one of the many excuses that people have used over the years, and forty or fifty years ago it would of have gotten you off the hook. Although no one but the driver can say whether or not it is true many defendants may lie and say that was the case in hopes of lightening their sentence. It may be true in some cases but in most the drunk driver does in fact have the intent to drive not thinking about the consequences, not caring about the consequences, or not knowing about the consequences.

Analytical Frameworks Today, young people are going to jail for something that they never could have pictured themselves doing. There certainly was no intent in many of these cases but the fact that one made a conscious decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated is enough for it to be considered murder. (Olian, Catherine. “Is It Murder? “) Libertarians, who express freedom of thought and action, as well as individual liberties, would argue that they should have the right to drink and drive as long as they do it responsibly.

(Rosenberg, Gary E) Libertarians would like to do as they wish so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else or infringe the rights of others. David Boaz, a libertarian writer and president of the Cato Institute said, “Libertarians defend each person’s right to life, liberty, and property–rights that people have naturally, before governments are created. ” Reason Magazine, a libertarian-leaning magazine, published an article called Abolish Drunk Driving Laws by Radley Balko in 2010 expressing how lawmakers should focus on impairment, not alcohol.

The article opposes the current drunk driving laws and suggested creating a new criminal offense “driving while ability impaired. ” (Balko, Radley) the problem here is that many drivers who are impaired at a BAC level below . 08% cant be arrested. Everyone reacts to alcohol differently; one drink can be too much for some people, and experienced ones can operate perfectly at or above the legal limit. The point of this article in one sentence is this “the legal definition of intoxication highlights the absurdity of drawing an arbitrary, Breathalyzer-based line between sobriety and criminal intoxication.

”(Balko, Radley) So this particular libertarian wants to have no legal limit whatsoever. In the year 2000, the federal government pushed for states to drop their BAC level from . 10% to . 08% and said that is the line between okay to drive and drunk. While the average BAC level in alcohol related fatalities was . 17% (Rosenberg, Gary E) He argues that people with BAC between . 08 and . 10 don’t drive erratically for police officers to notice them and they are only caught at road blocks.

Balko concludes that drunk driving is not the problem but driving while impaired is “The punishable act should be violating road rules or causing an accident, not the factors that led to those offenses and our laws, basically they demonstrate a prejudice against alcohol. ”(Balko, Radley) A libertarian would clearly blame the drunk driver for not being responsible if a death occurred. In a libertarian society, drunk driving is okay, as long as you know your limits so as to not put anyone’s life in danger. It is still debatable whether or not a libertarian would call it murder, but one would know where the fault lies, with the driver, not the alcohol.

Utilitarianism is classified as judgment of the morality of an action in terms of the consequences or results of that action. (Gold, Jeffrey) John Stuart Mill said, “All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and color from the end to which they are sub- servient. ” For a utilitarian, the morality of an action is determined by the consequences of that action. Actions that are moral produce good consequences; actions that are immoral produce bad consequences.

Utilitarianism is about maximizing happiness and all humans strive to be happy. (Gold, Jeffrey) Jeffery Gold describes it as “the greatest good for the greatest number. ” Drinking and driving does not produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Drunk driving does not only affect people on the road and their families but also the whole community. The laws against drunk driving are justified on utilitarian grounds. The benefit of prosecuting all intoxicated drivers outweighs the cost to our liberty, so maximum happiness is achieved.

Intoxicated drivers are not criminalized because it’s immoral to drive intoxicated, but because it is believed that such behavior increases the likelihood of bad consequences happening. A utilitarian would argue that any amount of drunk driving is wrong because there is a good chance that nothing good will come of it. In order to reduce suffering, one cannot put other people’s lives in danger. A utilitarian would clearly see the wrong in drunk driving but whether one would call an intoxicated driver a murderer is a different question.

One might say that the decision to drink and drive means that the driver is responsible for all the consequences of his or her decision. Communitarianism is the idea that justice includes a moral obligation based on solidarity and belonging. It emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. (Sandel) The community in communitarianism may be as small as a family or as big as an entire nation. A communitarian would say as a community one has a responsibility that he or she has to fulfill, to keep it happy, safe, and functional.

Drinking and driving would not benefit any community. If one could imagine the world as a community then drunk driving would never be acceptable. If each person had a moral obligation to each other than no one would selfishly risk lives. Our Moral Obligation As Christians we are called to promote the Kingdom of God and to overcome injustice in his name. Christian love requires fulfilling all specific responsibilities toward others. (Grisez, Germain. ) Germain Grisez, author of Living a Christian Life, talks about love, mercy, justice, and social responsibility.

He believes that “the church’s social doctrine provides Christians and laity with necessary guidance: norms for criticizing existing structures and guiding practical efforts to reform them. ” Christians must unite to transform the current world into a good and just global community. Grisez says that secular humanism of every kind anticipates the establishment of an ideal human community in this world. There will always be men and women who will not be people of good will, who are oblivious to the fact that so many people want to make the world a better place. “Weeds will grow with wheat until the harvest.

” (Mt: 13. 36-43) the church’s social teachings require that people participate in morally upright ways in action for social justice. (Grisez, Germain) One should commit oneself to promoting social justice and helping others to see it as well. Everyone, though many choose to ignore them, has gifts for promoting this justice, whether it’s being a leader or an activist, it doesn’t matter. People must restrain their impulses and desires in order to accept appropriate roles, and do good and positive deeds to promote social justice as a requirement of the social responsibility.

Drunk Driving is socially irresponsible; it is an injustice that kills too many people for it to continue. Alcohol is virtually everywhere and very easy to obtain because “drinking is just about the most celebrated thing in our country,” says John Shore. People today are encouraged to drink no matter where they go, whether they go out to eat or even when they see an add on TV, its everywhere. Yet we as a society are appalled at the idea of anyone driving drunk. “People drink because they’re constantly being enticed to drink.

And hoping that the vast majority of drunk people won’t drive themselves home after they’ve been drinking is like hoping the vast majority of boxers won’t get punched. They will. They can’t help it. Once they step into the ring, that’s what happens to them. ” (Shore, John. ) He argues that although the drunk driver is responsible for anything he does while drunk, we as a society are at some fault as well. This is why we must take responsibility into our own hands and not let someone’s life be shortened by our arrogance.

The answer to drunk driving does not lie in labeling offenders as murderers and allowing them to be sentenced to the harshest punishments. The reason I believe that drunkards lack the necessary criteria or ingredients to be labeled a murderer is because of the same argument that many states use to lock up drunk drivers. At a certain BAC level, the driver is impaired, not just physically, but morally and mentally, and for that reason, cannot be held accountable for murder. Bibliography 1. Olian, Catherine. “Is It Murder? ” 60 Minutes. CBS. 01 Apr. 2009. Television. 2. Brookman, F. , ed. “Murder. ” Dictionary of Policing.

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