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Suspending alcohol privileges worth considering

By Sam Tracy
On December 4, 2012

If you get convicted of driving under the influence in Connecticut, you get slapped with some pretty tough penalties. A first offense comes with a fine of up to $1,000 and a 45-day license suspension. To top that off, for one year you'll only be allowed to drive a vehicle if it has an ignition interlock, essentially a breathalyzer you need to pass in order to start your car.
These tough penalties are deserved. Drunk driving kills over 10,000 people per year, often taking the lives of innocent people. In 2010, about 350,000 people were injured in drunk driving accidents, and many will spend the rest of their lives paralyzed or disfigured.
However, one must wonder why it is that all of our penalties for drunk drivers affect their ability to drive, but not to drink. In order to decrease the incidence of drunk driving, we should consider temporarily suspending the alcohol privileges of those convicted of a DUI. In fact, we should consider suspending the alcohol privileges of those convicted of any alcohol-related crime.
This might sound crazy at first, and to be honest, it may still sound a little crazy at the end. To the best of my knowledge, no state forbids anyone over the age of 21 from purchasing and consuming alcohol, even if they are convicted of a drunken assault or driving under the influence. Convicts may be required to attend a drug abuse treatment program, but they will still be allowed to purchase alcohol. People seem to think it's okay to suspend someone's ability to drive, but suspending their ability to purchase and consume alcohol is going too far.
But this proposal could have a huge impact on public safety. The U.S. Department of Justice states that alcohol abuse was a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes committed in the country. Two-thirds of domestic violence victims reported that their attacker was under the influence of alcohol. I could cite more statistics, but the point is clear: alcohol is strongly linked to violent crime. Suspending alcohol use by those who commit crimes while under the influence could decrease the incidence of these assaults, saving lives.
This type of sanction would be very easy to implement. Connecticut drivers' licenses already have a host of markers indicating whether someone is below or above 21 years of age - youth have vertically-oriented licenses with large red warnings on the bottom, while those of drinking age receive horizontally-oriented licenses with no such warnings. The state could simply issue youth-style licenses to those convicted of alcohol-related crimes and require alcohol sellers to card everyone, not just those who appear to be underage.
Of course, as college students know, it is pretty easy to obtain alcohol while under 21. This could apply to those convicted of alcohol-related crimes as well. However, it's also possible that it would be harder for the latter group than the former. A 21- or 22-year-old purchasing alcohol for an underage friend typically thinks nothing of it, and there is little stigma for doing so. But buying alcohol for someone who drove drunk, or commited a violent crime while intoxicated, would be seen as much more serious by both the purchaser and his or her peers.
Yet even if this social pressure does not prevent people from getting alcohol, having a youth-style license would prevent them from drinking at bars or restaurants. Going home from the bar is one of the most common situations for drunk driving, and bars are frequently the scene of drunken fights. Avoiding these two familiar scenarios could be reason enough to consider suspending alcohol privileges.
As with all criminal laws, we would need to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Someone who urinates in public while intoxicated should not receive the same suspension (if any) as someone who gets behind the wheel while drunk. There would also need to be a working definition of alcohol-related crime, to avoid too broad of an interpretation.
These details are important, and it will take a public debate to determine if this is a policy worth implementing. But that's definitely a debate worth having. 


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