Kiwi Polemicist

December 4, 2008

• Drink-driving should be legalised

Yes, you read that right; I believe that drink-driving should be legalised. Before you tar and feather me, allow me to say that I think that drink-driving is stupid, dangerous, and inconsiderate of others. However, drink-driving laws do carry some problems of logic.

First problem: what is the definition of ‘drunk’? What blood alcohol level makes someone unfit to drive? Physiologically this varies widely, but the government picks an arbitrary blood alcohol number and applies this to everyone. The only blood alcohol level that is guaranteed to be safe is zero: any other number is a subjective construct.

Second problem: a person driving drunk has the potential to cause harm to others; only when he crashes has he caused actual harm. If you make drink driving illegal because it has the potential to cause harm, then logically you also have to make illegal other activities that carry the potential for harm to others, e.g. driving a car (even sober drivers harm others), flying a plane, building a bridge, etc.; society would be crippled. Making certain activities illegal because they carry the potential for harm to others is simply the State deciding which risky activities are acceptable and which are not, i.e. it is the nanny state in action.

Third problem: if the State is going to prosecute drink-drivers because they may cause harm to others, then the entire population should be in prison, because everyone may commit murder, grievous bodily harm, arson, and other crimes against person and property. It is contrary to natural justice to prosecute someone because they may harm others.

Now, please try to put aside State indoctrination delivered via the media regarding the evils of drink-driving and consider the following proposal.

My proposal is thus: make drink-driving legal, but make the penalties for actual harm caused by drink-driving very steep. For damaging someone’s property, the drink driver should pay the full cost of restoring that property, along with some punitive payments. For killing someone, the minimum penalty should be life in prison with hard labour (‘life’ means ‘they carry you out in a box’). Whilst in prison they should be earning money and sending that money to the parties affected by their stupidity, otherwise the offender is getting free board whilst the affected parties get nothing. Since the offender has chosen to drink and drive, knowing that he may well kill someone, a case for the death penalty could be made.

I also believe that there should be no second chances as the present laws provide: if you commit murder the judge doesn’t say “pay a $500 fine and don’t do it again”.

The current system clearly is a poor deterrent*: my alcoholic neighbour would regularly come arrive home and exit the vehicle with an open bottle of beer; on a couple of occasions I observed him exiting the vehicle whilst drunk to the point of staggering. Perhaps some heavy penalties such as those that I propose would deter him. There will always be some people who will only consider the pleasure of the moment and fail to consider the consequences of that pleasure, but under my proposal they would have plenty of time on the chain gang to contemplate the consequences of their actions (doing their hard labour on a chain gang will also be a visible deterrent to others).

There is a hard core of recidivist drink-drivers and under my proposal they would soon be off the streets, so doing things this way may well reduce fatalities caused by drunks. Any new drink-drivers would soon follow them.

The present system is all about the State saying “You may only drink and drive if we consider that the risk you pose to others is an acceptable risk”.

My system is all about personal responsibility: you can choose to get a taxi home after a night out, or you can choose to drive drunk. If you choose to drink and drive you choose to take the risk of killing someone, and you choose to take the risk of experiencing the consequences of your choice for the rest of your life.

What do you think about this proposal?


* click here to see an example of the pitiful penalties for drink driving. This drunk causes permanent injury and he’s going to get home detention. What does home detention mean? Pizza, beer, sex, DVDs, and all the other comforts of home.

♦ The police use the current laws as an excuse to breach civil liberties: see my post here

♦ what I have proposed here is not the ideal for a classical liberalist, rather it is an idea that can work in the statist system that we are stuck with



  1. I get your point, and I think that it may be a larger deterrent than the current situation, though the current lack of deterrent is a problem with the entire legal system, not just drink driving.

    I am not in agreement here though, my position is 2 fold. Regardless of whether you do damage, you cannot actually operate a vehicle properly while intoxicated. So you are forbidding an actual issue, not a potential one. One may not drive without a licence as one has not proven his capacity to do so. Intoxication puts one in a similar position to being unlicensed, thus being illegal is not analogous to potential crimes. One can still have the severe punishments for actual events along with fines and delicensing for the lesser offence of driving incapacitated.

    Secondly there is biblical precedence. Obvious consequences that are predictable are expected to be avoided. Israelites were commanded to build parapets around their roofs to prevent people falling to their injury. You could answer this supports your view in that they were only punished when it did happen, however the fact that they were commanded to do so suggests that the expectation to do so is actually reasonable, in the same way that a law not to drive intoxicated is actually reasonable.

    Comment by bethyada — December 4, 2008 @ 8:57 pm

    • Bethyada: I see your point about a drunk person not being able to operate a vehicle properly. However, as I said in the post, at what point does someone become unable to operate a vehicle properly?

      As a classical liberalist I apply the non-aggression axiom to drink driving. The non-aggression axiom is “It is illicit to initiate or threaten invasive violence against a man or his legitimately owned property“. A person who is driving drunk is not violating anyone’s personal or property rights unless he actually crashes into a person or a person’s property. Thus there is an actual issue of being of unfit to drive but being unfit to drive is not a violation of the non-aggression axiom. If something does not violate the non-aggression axiom and does not violate biblical morality it’s fine with me. Having said that, each person should take responsibility for themselves and avoid activities that carry a high risk of violating the non-aggression axiom (see also the Bible verses below).

      I am proposing that the non-aggression axiom be applied as a deterrent against drink driving (i.e. severe penalties for violation of other people’s personal and/or property rights) rather than using the police as a deterrent. I believe that when drink-drivers have to fully bear the consequences of their actions it will be a more effective deterrent than the present system of bearing part of the consequences. It’s all about personal responsibility rather than having the nanny state watching to see if you’re drink driving.

      It’s a radical concept and I could be wrong.

      Now to the biblical aspect: Deut 22:8 says:
      When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.
      (NASB, cf Ex 21:28ff)

      They were instructed to build a parapet so as to avoid bloodguilt (note the element of self-interest – it isn’t all altruism) and I cannot find any penalty for not building a parapet. Drink-driving laws are equivalent to having a penalty for not building a parapet and I cannot see a defence for them in this text. A modern version of this text might be:

      When you have been out drinking with friends, you shall call a taxi, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone is killed by you.

      Christians are also instructed to consider others more highly than themselves and drink-driving is not in any way excusable for a christian because it places other people at risk.

      Comment by kiwipolemicist — December 5, 2008 @ 10:08 pm

  2. […] believe that drink-driving should be legalised and that police checkpoints are a breach of civil liberties. Published […]

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  3. Deciding whether a person can operate a vehicle is not that hard. Studies of driving skills could be done with various blood alcohol levels and a level chosen that at which most people deteriorate by a set amount (eg. 10%). That is not really a big issue. And that someone is unable to handle a machine should be enough to make it illegal even if the punishment is minor.

    I suggested your response in my original comment, I said You could answer this supports your view in that they were only punished when it did happen

    And I agree that the more severe punishments should be given to those committing the worse offences.

    What I am disputing is your comment that legality can only reasonably apply to offences committed. I think this passage shows that God bans some activities that are likely to lead to harm. Even if there is no punishment, the existence of a command means it is an expectation.

    Take the ox example you referenced. The difference in punishment depends on the previous behaviour of the ox. A usual ox gets the man no punishment, a goring ox gets him death. Even if the ox doesn’t get locked up, it was the expectation it should have been.

    While the punishment for ox goring parallels your suggestions, my point is that I think that likely outcomes can be considered when legislating. If God views likely outcomes as different from any potential outcomes, why cannot the state?

    So I am saying that all your punishments are appropriate, and that legislating against drunk driving is also a legitimate action of the state. A likely outcome can be viewed differently under law from a potential outcome.

    Comment by bethyada — December 6, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    • Bethyada: sorry about the delay in replying.

      1) Determining a safe blood alcohol level is not as simple you say. Someone who drinks regularly may function pretty well at a blood alcohol level that would see a teetotaller as pickled as a parrot. This is because a regular drinker becomes desensitised to the effects of alcohol.

      2) Biblical imperatives – such as the parapet rule and the ox-that-is-known-to-gore rule – are all about punishing the wrongdoer rather than preventing wrongdoing. It is not about God banning some activities that are likely to lead to harm (as you say), rather God is saying “If you’re a stupid plonker and do something that you know is likely to harm someone, then you will wear the consequences if your action or inaction does harm someone”.

      Do you believe that people should be free to choose their religion? Would you agree that it is harmful to tell people that believing is Jesus is a bad idea? You’re a christian so I presume that the answer to both is “yes”. However, if your line of reasoning is correct , then it should be illegal to tell people that believing in Jesus is a bad idea because it is likely to harm them. If you reject that notion you are applying a double standard, i.e. one standard to secular matters and one to spiritual.

      3) the notion of having laws to prevent wrongdoing (rather than punishing actual wrongdoing) bears some similarity to the legalistic Jewish rule of only giving 39 lashes, so as to prevent possible infringement of God’s rule that only allowed 40 lashes. Also, I think that God is gracious enough to not strike dead someone who accidentally gave 41 lashes despite taking reasonable precautions.

      4) “While the punishment for ox goring parallels your suggestions, my point is that I think that likely outcomes can be considered when legislating. If God views likely outcomes as different from any potential outcomes, why cannot the state?

      So I am saying that all your punishments are appropriate, and that legislating against drunk driving is also a legitimate action of the state. A likely outcome can be viewed differently under law from a potential outcome.”

      This statement is based upon two assumptions:
      a) that is is good and/or necessary for that state to oversee the relationships between individuals. This belief is what gives rise to the nanny state.

      If I drive drunk and hit someone, it is a matter between me and him, and we are adults who are capable of sorting it out between us. We don’t need the state to come charging in like a parent wanting to sort out a quarrel between siblings. Children whose parents always adjudicate their disputes never learn dispute resolution, and that is exactly what we see in society today: when someone has a dispute with another person they expect they state to sort it out.

      b) is subsequent to a): that is necessary and/or desirable for the state to monitor the actions of individuals and punish them if they do something that is likely to harm someone else. This belief gives rise to health and safety regulations such as those requiring a medical centre to have an approved first aid kit – despite having a room full of life saving equipment and staff trained to operate that equipment. This belief also gives rise to the the police state that we have today.

      Furthermore, what is the definition of a “likely” outcome and a “potential” outcome?

      Comment by kiwipolemicist — December 8, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  4. […] I believe that drink-driving should be legalised. […]

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  8. The reason why we have drink driving laws is to reduce unescessary road deaths, if you legalise drink driving you will have an increase in road deaths.
    If you legaliose drugs you will have in increase in drug addicts.

    Both the above require laws else our hospitals and funeral parlours will evidently become inundated.

    Here is my law, if you kill whilst under the influence of either drink or drugs then the family of the person killed should all be allowed to take away a peice of flesh no bigger than a pound in weight whether they bleed or not, the reason is to compensate for the pain that has been caused, there you go no money problems no drink problems and no stresses on our hospitals and emergency services.

    Comment by the emperor — September 27, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    • if you legalise drink driving you will have an increase in road deaths

      That is an unproven assumption.

      I think that your law would be rather unpopular.

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — September 30, 2009 @ 8:18 am

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