Nanny has reared his ugly head again. Momentarily and uncharacteristically knocked last week (at least temporarily) by National’s Nanny Steven Joyce, the miasma of wowserness has now passed across the aisle to the son Helen Clark never had, Darren Hughes—whose member’s bill to nearly halve the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers was last night given the tacit support of Prime Minister Smile & Wave.
Quite apart from all the other points we canvassed last week, the success (if any) of this “Daddy State” bill looks like another case of rewarding policing failure and drawing our own chains ever tighter.
Nannies like chains. Puritans like Darren and Steven seem to like rattling them. Puritans’ greatest pleasure, observed H.L. Mencken, is preventing we simple folk from enjoying ourselves. They’re motivated by the frightful idea that someone, somewhere might just be enjoying themselves in a way of which they haven’t approved.
Frankly, that’s about all the argument there is for this New Puritanism in this latest manifestation. That people are drinking, so therefore we have to stop them.
The “argument” given for nearly halving the limit is that “drunk drivers are still killing people” so “we” have to get them off the road. So how has that worked so far?
Well, since it’s drivers well over the current allowed alcohol figure of 0.08 mcg/ml of blood—those utterly bladdered—who are the drivers doing the damage, that argument doesn’t work very well at all. In the last year, only one driver aged over 25 who died in a car crash had a blood-alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08—i.e., in the net that Darren Hughes and Smile & Wave would like to cast over us—whereas drivers well over the current legal limit were the ones much more heavily involved.
In other words, drivers who are already illegal under current laws are doing the damage, or at least involved in it; and in response Darren and Daddy would like to punish the rest of us, who aren’t.
That’s not intelligent government—that’s just bloody wowserism.
The problem is not those of us who are safely driving between 0.05 and 0.08, who Young Darren would like to ping. It’s those driving dangerously—and those already well over the existing government-imposed limit. And they’re often “the same driver,”—and the existing laws don’t bother them, and Darren’s new one won’t touch them: Recidivist drink-drivers are two a penny on the roads, and they infest all the courts. So they’re still driving. And still getting slapped on the hand for it.
So despite the idea that it’s all as simple as setting a “limit,” that hasn’t worked at all. So much for setting a “limit” and thinking it will, by magic, somehow stop drunk or dangerous driving.
So why not just do the sensible thing and stop this obsession with alcohol, and just penalise bad driving. Have your police on the roads stopping bad and dangerous drivers when they see them, regardless of what they’ve drunk, instead of obsessing about pointless random stops and quotas. (In fact, take them off the random stops and they might even have time to do it.) Why not penalise bad driving, penalise dangerous driving highly—and punish dangerous driving causing death even higher. Why not sentence even higher those who’ve made themselves irresponsible and dangerous through their imbibition—recognising that this makes them more culpable, not less.
In other words, make people responsible for the actual damage they themselves do to others, not for actions you would just like to stop—and then remove them physically from being able to do it again. That’s what law is supposed to do,not to penalise those who’ve inflicted no damage on anyone else.
The point of good law is not to inculcate a New Puritanism. It’s not to stop people innocent of aggressive action from enjoying their lives in whatever way they wish. The point of good law is to protect innocent people from aggressors. Darren’s lemon sucking won’t do that. Actually targeting objectively dangerous driving could, and would.