Tuesday, January 8, 2013

R.I.D.E. as an Ineffective Solution to Drunk Driving

[This post originally appeared on the blog of mises.ca, on December 22, 2012]

The traditional clamor of family gatherings, feasts and gift exchanges that accompany the Holiday Season have of late been augmented by local and regional police squads with the widespread application of R.I.D.E.  The “Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere” (R.I.D.E.) program, which started in Etobicoke, Ontario in 1977 has grown, as all government programs tend, to mammoth proportions. In short, the program consists of local bulletproof clad police squads armed to their teeth, turning downtown areas and highway on-ramps into war zones with their cherrytops flashing as if the Soviets had just invaded, checking drivers for alcohol induced impairment. While the damages that result from drunk driving can be to private property, the “prevention” of injury to private property that is accomplished by R.I.D.E. is something of an exaggeration. For, it is one thing to prevent an imminent crime, it is completely another to label persons criminals for being in a broad statistical category that has a given statistical chance of committing an injury. In that respect, “drunk drivers” caught at a checkpoint are similar to persons who get arrested for possessing illegal drugs. R.I.D.E.’s aim is to catch “impaired” drivers who are clearly capable of driving safely—for if they were driving dangerously they would be easily noticeable on the road.

Until recently, R.I.D.E. was practiced only on holiday weekends and the Christmas season, and it was somewhat reasonable: check-points were set for outbound traffic in the most heavily trafficked areas. In more recent times, the program has taken a completely idiotic turn, as check points on highway off-ramps have began to spring up on rather random nights; while the legal impairment limit has been reduced to an unreasonably low 0.05. If the objective of the program is to prevent impaired, unsafe driving, it is difficult to see the effectiveness of it when it purports to catch drivers who have already safely driven to and down the highway. Clearly, we cannot take the word of the Police on its face that its’ objective is to protect the public; rather a more sensible explanation for their action is that there is little more than a financial goal behind it, and a dose of behavior control.
Speaking to the St. Catharines Standard, concerning its latest sting O.P.P. Staff Sgt. Jan Idzenga expresses frustration with the public’s defiance of the law: “I don’t know what else we have to do to hammer this message home. I don’t think people understand the consequences.”
The Standard goes on to explain that:
The RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program is well-advertised in newspapers, on television and on the radio. Both the OPP and Niagara Regional Police often announce they’re running ride checks in advance. Yet, as Idzenga points out, “they’re still not getting the message.”
Friday night, the NRP checked the drivers of 600 cars at a roadside checkpoint in St. Catharines. Four people were arrested for blowing over the legal limit of a .08% blood alcohol level.
This, according to NRP Sgt. Darrin Forbes is still “pretty high.” In fact, “until we go out and catch no one drinking and driving out there, it will continue to be a concern,” he said. Police departments, of course, have the luxury of setting such lofty and impossible goals, since they have no financial constraints to hold them back. Thus, they don’t need to find effective ways of being useful to the public: they just need to look busy.

For its’ NRP Friday Night RIDE for December 14, the NRP reports that 600 vehicles were stopped, out of which 16 roadside sobriety tests were conducted (officers suspected drunkenness in these cases, or the drivers were naïve enough not to lie), these resulted in three 3-day license suspensions and 4 impaired driving charges. Statistically, 0.26% of those checked were suspicious enough to give sobriety tests to; out of which half proved to be in violation of the law. Yet, as trivial as these numbers seem, drunk drivers can often injure other people, and thus represent a problem to the protection of private property.

That said if safety were the true objective, it can be achieved much more cheaply and effectively than by police-state like measures. Rather than turning downtown areas and highways into war zones, the concerned city leaders ought to provide for the true problem at hand: the difficulty of getting around in cities. It is an undeniable truth that the sprawling nature of Canadian cities is a deliberate design to subsidize the car industry, which according to Keynesian doctrine is indispensible to economic wellbeing. As such, it is nearly impossible to get around by walking from place to place, especially in the late-fall to early-spring time of year.

To the great shock of busybodies, people are not stupid nor do they have desires to put their own lives in danger; they are just left with no choice. Indeed, the city owned transit system shuts down long before the bar curfew. In fact, before most people even make it out to the bars. At the same time the taxi licensing regime in place gives rise to a shortage of private providers of mass transportation. Licensed taxis are hard to come by, since there is a lack of inducement for them to put extra cars on the road (an understandable action on their part, since this capital investment will not be self-liquidating due to the lack of daytime business). Yet, much cheaper and equally reliable “gypsy cab” service providers have been a target of the law enforcement authorities for as long as I have lived in this province (12 years). For this reason, even if they do have cars available, one cannot know, since advertizing for them is a way of self-sabotage. There is on top, the stigmatization of illegal taxis, in that they could be staffed with potential rapists or thieves—borne from the indoctrination that what is not regulated is by default criminal. (To this point when the question is posed “What makes legal taxi drivers safe?” the answer is that “They have been checked.” Checked by whom? Illegal taxi companies have the same objective as legal ones: to turn a profit by providing a service.)

Therefore, if the goal is to improve safety and protect the local population from drunk driving, abolish this trauma inducing ugliness called R.I.D.E., which is easily circumnavigated by bypassing the “usual spots” anyway, and allow for a better late-night transportation system to develop. Rather than paying exorbitant overtime salaries to police officers and tying up their crime solving resources for babysitting activities, make provisions for something to the effect of late night, part-time taxi licenses; and extend the hours of certain city bus routes. Such a solution would not only increase safety, but it will provide additional incomes for people ready to render actual and desired services; while at the same time bar revenues are sure to go up as the necessity of the Designated Driver is rendered no more.

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