Skip to main content

Don't lower threshold on drunken driving

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • National Transportation Safety Board wants to reduce blood alcohol benchmark
  • LZ Granderson: Board's goal is to reduce alcohol-related deaths, but this is hard to attain
  • He says more teens die from texting and driving than drinking and driving
  • LZ: Instead of lowering the threshold, enforce current laws better

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- Celebrity mugshots are hilarious, aren't they?

The disheveled hair, the smeared makeup, the ridiculous attempt by some to still try to look "hot" despite the circumstances. The most iconic post-arrest shot is Nick Nolte circa 2002. He looks as if he went through a carwash riding on the hood. The mugshot even has its own Twitter handle.

Yeah, it's all fun and games until you read why these celebrities were arrested in the first place.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Nolte was brought in for suspicion of driving under the influence. Wynonna Judd was arrested in 2003, accused of the same thing. As was Nicole Richie in 2006 and Kiefer Sutherland in 2007.

Knicks point guard Jason Kidd is lucky to be alive. He was arrested in 2012 after running into a utility pole.

Todd Harrell, the bassist for the band 3 Doors Down, is also fortunate to be alive. In April, he was charged with vehicular homicide when the car he was driving clipped a pickup and crashed into a retaining wall. Unfortunately, the truck he hit swerved out of control, hit a guardrail, dropped down an embankment and overturned, killing the driver.

When that happens, the mugshots of celebrity drunken drivers become less funny.

This week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended all 50 states decrease the blood alcohol content threshold for drunken driving from 0.08% to 0.05%. The goal is to have zero deaths from alcohol-related car accidents. Noble but unattainable if our attitude about drinking and driving doesn't change.

Will drunk driving standard get tougher?

In 2010, adults self-reported drinking and driving about 112 million times. Only 1.4 million drivers -- about 1% -- were arrested. In other words, if someone has had one too many drinks and gets behind the wheel of a car 100 times in a year, they might get caught once. How do you convince a nation that gets away with a crime 99% of the time that it's a serious matter?

We can talk about the deaths, but let's be honest -- more than 10,000 people dying each year because of alcohol-impaired crashes is sad.

But more teens die from texting and driving than drinking and driving. So, shouldn't we put more energy into that instead?

To really move the needle on any issue of importance, it helps to make it a personal matter as it is a legal one.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 85% of self-reported drunken drivers were binge drinkers. For men, that constitutes at least five drinks in an hour. Five drinks raises your level to .10%. So instead of using resources to lobby for a new federal law that lowers the threshold, the NTSB should direct its influence on helping states enforce the current one.

If more people were caught, the less other people would feel that they could get away with it.

Lowering the blood alcohol threshold does nothing if we don't increase the number of checkpoints so people can be arrested for breaking the current law. And you could fund this increase in checkpoints by doing something the World Health Organization recommends: imposing a tax on alcoholic beverages.

For a 180-pound man, as little as two beers could cause his blood alcohol content to reach 0.05. How many elected officials are really going to want to fight food and beverage lobbyists in addition to bar and restaurant owners for that? A slight increase in price to fund an initiative to arrest drunken drivers will not only discourage binge drinking (because it's more expensive to do so), but it is a message that's easier to sell to a nation that consumed 6.3 billion gallons of beer in 2011.

Maybe then instead of dismissing the Noltes and Lindsay Lohans of the world as being stupid enough to get caught, the public would view celebrities who are arrested for drunken driving as reminders that they could be caught, too.

Because at the end of the day, the NTSB can try to pass all the laws it wants, but if people don't get caught, then the law is toothless. That's part of the reason why celebrity mugshots are so funny because those fools got caught.

But drunken driving would be less funny to everyone if more people were greeted at a checkpoint with a Breathalyzer.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT