Driving a motor vehicle on a public road is not a right. It is a privilege, which requires a license and otherwise can be regulated.
Rights cannot be regulated by government authorities. That is, rights should not be regulated by them. That's what makes gun control so offensive to many people, even those who do not want to own a gun. If it becomes easy to abrogate one right, it will make it easier to abrogate others.
According to a story in The Morning Call on Wednesday, a state report reveals that alcohol is "more lethal" than speed when it comes to deadly traffic accidents.
The "2012 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics" report issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the story said, revealed that, overall, the state's highway fatality rate was down to 1.31 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, "the fourth lowest ever recorded" since PennDOT began keeping records in 1935. It also revealed, however, that "alcohol-related crashes were 4.2 times more likely to result in death than crashes unrelated to alcohol."
I took a look at the 70-page report, and it said there were 404 people killed and 6,425 injured in alcohol-related crashes on Pennsylvania highways in 2012. If you have seen the faces of people maimed in motor vehicle crashes, you may feel some of those injuries are almost as tragic as the fatalities.
I do not regard an alcohol-related crash as an accident. I view it as premeditated murder perpetrated, with malice aforethought, by somebody who intentionally soaked up booze before driving.
Each year, the number of fatal alcohol-related traffic crashes in Pennsylvania is roughly the same as the number of gun homicides. In some years, the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers exceeds the number of people shot to death.
For reasons I'm not sure I understand, many individuals exhibit near hysteria over gun deaths while only a few seem concerned at all over the toll inflicted by drunks. Is your child less dead if he or she is killed by a drunk than if killed by a gun?
One thing is certain. The effort to whip up a frenzy over guns is not motivated by any desire to protect anybody. If it were, there'd be just as much noise over drunk drivers who exploit a licensed privilege as there is over killers who exploit a right.
Some politicians take the problem of drunk drivers seriously. For years, state Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, tried to make Pennsylvania law tougher when it comes to a requirement for "ignition interlocks" on any and all vehicles registered to motorists who have been convicted of drunk driving.
Current law says the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting when the driver is sloshed, "may" be required for those who have been convicted, and then the sot has to blow into the device to start his or her engine for only a year, tops. The law does provide for the interlock requirement in the case of motorists who repeatedly get convicted of drunk driving.
In past years, Clymer has introduced legislation to impose the ignition interlock after the first conviction of drunk driving, as recommended for all states last December by the National Traffic Safety Board.
"Special interests killed the bill and it never went anywhere," he told me.
When I asked which special interests opposed the requirement, Clymer indicated he wasn't sure but suspected the booze industry — those who make and sell alcoholic beverages. "That's my personal opinion," he said, cautiously. "We could never get the bill out of committee, so here we are."
I'm not as reserved when it comes to saying who opposes tougher ignition interlock requirements. A few years ago, when I wrote in favor of them, Sarah Longwell, the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, attacked my "baseless arguments," saying judges "should use their discretion" before imposing such a cruel requirement on first-time offenders.
"This kind of zero tolerance is not anti-drunks. It's anti-drinks," Longwell wrote in a "Head to Head" column in response to my views.
The booze industry wants nothing that puts a crimp in the profits derived from pouring alcoholic drinks down the throats of people who have been convicted of drunk driving. So am I anti-drinks when it comes to that? You're darned tootin' I am.
Fines do not work, nor do license suspensions, jail or the threat of jail, or crusades to make motorists aware of the harm they do by drinking. Ignition interlocks work, and the booze industry knows it.
All states have laws on ignition interlocks and Pennsylvania is among those with the weakest, thanks, no doubt, to the generosity of booze industry lobbyists.
On the other hand, how much money do the victims of drunk drivers slip to politicians in the form of "political campaign contributions" to get them to support tougher laws? Zilch?
The only way some politicians will give the slightest consideration to the thousands of dead or maimed victims of drunk drivers will be if voters get angry enough to threaten their gravy train to Harrisburg.
Voters need to ask pointed questions about how hard their individual legislators are working to get a meaningful ignition interlock bill passed — and vote accordingly.
If ever there was anything worthy of single-issue voting, this is it.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun