Dave Reid

Drinking Problem? or Driving Culture?

By - Aug 30th, 2009 05:42 pm

Fifth offense.  Right now that’s when a drunk driving conviction in Wisconsin becomes a felony.  Lower it to the fourth, third, second, or first, because clearly the fifth offense is way too many, but there’s more to the drunk driving problem than how many times someone has to be caught before it becomes a felony.  Further, this problem isn’t because some bartenders play a game of dice with customers, have a round with regulars, or have a drink at the end of the night.  Of course what it is about, is people getting into their cars when they shouldn’t.  So lets start with lowering when a drunk driving offense becomes a felony, but understand the problem is that people make what at the time seems like a rational choice to drive, prior to what clearly is an irrational choice to drive drunk.

Point being that part of the drunk driving discussion that is always left out, is our driving culture.  The State of Wisconsin is in the middle of spending $6 billion on freeway expansion in Southeast Wisconsin, while at the same time mass transit service in Southeast Wisconsin has seen budget cuts, service reductions, and any attempt to improve access or service is fought and often blocked.  Knowing full well that customers will be living the High Life while attending Summerfest , State Fair, and a game Miller Park we still surround them with massive surface parking lots.  The limiting of transportation options and prioritizing others furthers the cultural belief that driving is the only option, and that somehow other transportation methods are a challenge to ones freedom.

Additionally, let’s look at zoning issues and tavern locations as part of the issue.  When bars are situated in large parking lots, away from transit, not in a district or neighborhood nor in a walkable area, the result is people will drive to the bar.  When cities, towns, and suburbs, legislate the number of parking spots a bar must provide per bar stool, the people will drive to the bar.

It is this culture of driving, this anti-transit attitude, this belief in free parking, that driving is somehow freedom that makes it so difficult to get people to leave the car at home.  So, sure toughen drunk driving laws, but leave Wisconsin’s cocktail culture alone and take a closer look at our culture of driving.

Categories: Car Culture

17 thoughts on “Drinking Problem? or Driving Culture?”

  1. Dottie says:

    I’m shocked that a DUI is not a felony until the 5th offense in Wisconsin. I assumed it was always a felony everywhere, but now I’m wondering if the first time is anywhere. Scary stuff. You’re right about the car culture. Parking spots based on how many people a bar can fit? There aren’t that many designated drivers.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Dottie To be clear zoning regarding taverns is different from community to community, but yes is some cases (I believe I refer in the older post to the zoning code in Franklin, WI). And yes it seems Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws are a bit behind the times.

    Incidentally I just ran across your blog (thanks streetsblog), good stuff!

  3. Bob says:

    Reminds me of a suburban bar where I used to live. No houses nearby, no transit, nice municipal parking lot. “No parking, Tow Away Zone, 2AM-6AM”

  4. scarshapedstar says:

    “Reminds me of a suburban bar where I used to live. No houses nearby, no transit, nice municipal parking lot. “No parking, Tow Away Zone, 2AM-6AM””

    And the real kicker – no taxis.

  5. Rob says:

    60 Minutes did a feature somewhat recently about charging drunk drivers with harsher penalties. The piece had almost zero discussion about why people are driving so many places (including the bar) in the first place. It’s so engrained in the mainstream thought process that not driving someplace is abnormal that you wind up with the situations we now have.

  6. Dave says:

    It’s not just drunk driving that is overly tolerated, it’s irresponsible, dangerous driving behavior of all kinds. I see motorists pull stunts on the street every single day that put their own lives, the lives of other motorists and especially those of pedestrians and bikers at risk. Passing on the right, gunning it through yellow lights, speeding on residential side streets. It’s so common it’s become the norm in Milwaukee and most other large cities.

    I want to see the courts and law enforcement get serious about willful, dangerous driving habits. People need to start losing their licenses for recklessness on the streets – for driving 45 mph on a 25 mph side street with kids and families everywhere. For gunning it on a yellow light, nearly taking out a pedestrian crossing legally in the crosswalk. I see this kind of homocidal behavior every single day.

    I myself was once a 19 year old wannabe hot shot that thought he was the center of the universe, especially while behind the wheel of the car. It’s only by the grace of God that I never harmed anyone on the roads or myself. But if I had known that cops would have pulled me over for bad driving behavior, and that there was a legitmate threat of losing my ability to drive over it, then I might have behaved myself better. But the justice system sees driving as unassailable right, and the revocation of drivers licenses as cruel and unusual punishment tantamount to the death penalty. So motorists pretty much have carte blanche to put themselves and other people in danger.

    People are imperfect, and we’ll never eliminate all traffic accidents. But there’s a difference between screwing up and wielding a deadly weapon in an irresponible manner.

  7. Century Council says:

    Many good points. However, tougher legislation is critical to ensuring that Wisconsin’s rate of DWI-related fatalities gets closer to zero. This bill’s support of mandatory ignition interlocks for hardcore drunk drivers is an important move forward for Wisconsin.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Century Council I don’t have a problem with the ignition locks (I don’t think) or making the felony charge happen earlier, but the bigger point is that our society, culture, and some regulations in fact encourage people to drive.

    When driving equals freedom, when bars/events are surrounded by huge parking lots, when some zoning laws actually require parking for bars and separate residential from retail uses, well our laws and culture actually encourage people to drive. Until that is understood we’ll never solve the problem.

  9. Rob says:

    The unfortunate thing is, how many people who are arrested and charged with motor-vehicle felonies and then almost immediately get exceptions for things like “driving to work”? It’s so easy to argue that without the ability to drive someone’s life is completely worthless that the courts give a lot more sympathy than is probably deserved.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Rob I’d add that part of this “i need a car to work” issue, is related to where the job is located and where the person lives.

  11. MilwaukeeD says:

    I’ve always thought that you shouldn’t be able to get a liquor license unless you are within walking distance to public transit.

  12. Jeff Jordan says:

    Another point, when do we quit giving people who are “over served or over indulged” a free ride on the issue of responsibility. Assuming most people are sober at some point, they know if they drink they are going to be impaired to some degree. Pilots do not drink for twenty four hours in advance of their flight.
    He couldn’t help it he was drunk excuse is a free pass to folks, who if they are found guilty of two and three DUI’s need help or if they refuse that incarceration.
    I’m absolutely in favor of public transit. Anything that helps get these people out from behind the wheel is a good thing. Note that on New Years Eve, we promote public transit by offering free rides.

  13. Nick says:

    This is something I definitely noticed in Europe, where the driving-culture isn’t quite as ingrained, thanks to good transit and walkable living areas. Sure, they also have a zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving, but at the same time, nobody has to drive if they want to go have a drink with their friends! If we implemented some sort of zero-tolerance policy here it would mean diddly-squat because everyone would keep driving to the bars anyways since they have no choice (or they perceive that they have no choice, since driving is just how everyone gets around, right?)

    Most of the time I walk to the bars and so do many of my friends. If I’m meeting up with friends in another neighborhood and it’s a bit far to walk, I will take my bicycle. Sure, riding a bicycle inebriated is still technically a DUI, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as trying to control a 2-ton hunk of metal.

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