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konerko14

Do Drunken drivers violate rights?

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(Mod's note: I've split this from

the thread on drugs, because this thread is addressing a different legal issue, not just a different substance. -sN)

When a drunk driver is swerving around on the road, how is that violating anybody's rights?

Edited by softwareNerd

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Of course the same would hold for someone high on certain drugs who starts walking around the streets. But I believe in this thread the discussion revolved mostly around private use of drugs. When you are at home you aren't really endangering anyone except yourself.

On second thought, I would say that a person who doesn't live alone also shouldn't be able to take so many drugs that he could become a danger to his environment. Just because you are married to someone and have children, doesn't give you the right to violate their rights. This probably doesn't happen with every type of drugs, but there are a couple of nasty ones that can greatly increase the chances of lethal incidents happening.

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On second thought, I would say that a person who doesn't live alone also shouldn't be able to take so many drugs that he could become a danger to his environment. Just because you are married to someone and have children, doesn't give you the right to violate their rights. This probably doesn't happen with every type of drugs, but there are a couple of nasty ones that can greatly increase the chances of lethal incidents happening.

Those people dont have to live with the drug addict though. They should choose to live away from him if they realize he is putting them at serious risk.

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The drunk driver is violating rights just as someone who randomly fires a gun is violating rights; he is creating a serious hazard to other peoples lives and/or property.

Isnt that similar to someone driving 100mph in city streets? Except I see a lot of Objectivists propose that there shouldnt be any speed limit.

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The drunk driver is violating rights just as someone who randomly fires a gun is violating rights; he is creating a serious hazard to other peoples lives and/or property.

Uh, not so sure about that. He certainly has a higher potential to violate rights, but until he hits someone he hasn't violated a thing. A hazard is not a violation. I don't have a right to live in an environment scrubbed of all hazards.

I'm not necessarily in favor of not having speed limits, and not outlawing drunk driving, but this basis (rights violation) is the wrong one to do it on.

Edited by KendallJ

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... but until he hits someone he hasn't violated a thing. A hazard is not a violation.
How about a guy who sprays a neighborhood with an Uzi but doesn't hit anyone? In what way is that guy different from the extremely drunk driver?

Added the following elaboration:

It seems that extremely dangerous driving (in a context where reasonable people have a right to expect differently) is the crime, not the act of being drunk. So, dangerous driving would be the issue, whether the driver is drunk or just using someone's roads as a stunt-practice track, and even if someone is not hit. This would be similar to saying that owning an Uzi is not a crime, but spraying a neighborhood is, even if nobody gets hurt.

If I owned the road, I would definitely disallow drivers over a certain blood -lcohol level. I suspect it would be higher than what's allowed today, but I am not sure of this. While the government owns the roads, I understand that they would set some limit. As a consumer, if there were two alternate roads, and one had no limit at all, there would be times of the day (late evening) where I might prefer the "limit road".

Edited by softwareNerd

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The drunk driver is violating rights just as someone who randomly fires a gun is violating rights
There should be no further discussion of "drunk drivers" until you define the term. We don't need to have a definition of "randomly firing a gun" since that's not a fancy special term.

"Drunk driver" usually means someone with blood alcohol over the legal limit -- not "one who is so intoxicated that they cannot safely operate a vehicle". In Norway they have a .02% limit, which effectively means that you cannot legally drive if you have had a single drink. That is a really stupid limit. Somewhat worse is the 0% limit of Czechia, Hungary, and Japan. The US legislatively redefined the concept "drunk driver" from a more common .1% to the current prevailing .08%.

The point that SN makes is correct -- it's not the blood alcohol, it's the behavior. That is what they should be testing for: can you walk a straight line, can you maintain your banalce, can you catch the ruler before it hits the ground. Even if you are sober, if your reactions are so slow that you can't stop the car immediately in an emergency, I'd want you off of my road.

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How about a guy who sprays a neighborhood with an Uzi but doesn't hit anyone? In what way is that guy different from the extremely drunk driver?

(I'm assuming you want me to exclude the fact that bullets are damaging property. Let's say he's firing bullets into the air then.)

It isn't any different.

Look I'm not saying that you shouldn't criminalize this sort of behavior, but for sure, don't do it on the basis that the person is already violating individual rights. Certainly, the person is creating a hazard, i.e. a significantly elevated probability that someone might get hurt, but hasn't hurt anyone yet.

The "he's violating my rights simply by being drunk" argument, is the first step on a very slippery slope.

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He certainly has a higher potential to violate rights, but until he hits someone he hasn't violated a thing. A hazard is not a violation. I don't have a right to live in an environment scrubbed of all hazards.
Let's take the case of the big ugly looking guy with a deer-slicing knife in his hand, whose approaching you with all deliberate speed and a nasty look on his face that tells you he's not planning on offering you a peacible trade of his pig-sticker for your wallet. I assume that you wouldn't say that his actions haven't violated anything until the blade actually enters your soon-to-be cold and lifeless body.

There is a point at which that potential or rights violation becomes so high that it isn't just a possibility that a rights violation will occur, it is probable that it will. That, I would say, is how you define a threat: and a threat is almost as good as the actual fact. The logic that say that the initiation of force includes the threat to perform a forceful act will also allow you to restrain a person who is acting in such an irresponsible fashion that it is probable he will actually do damage. I think we'd need to be more concrete about that probability, but that's a lesser detail. (BTW my understanding is that firing bullets into the air might be considered non-threatening only if literally fired straight up. There are numerous instances of people being hurt or killed a mile away from celebratory firing in New Orlenas, or there used to be until the lace got trashed and nobody lives there anymore).

If we assume the current road system (and we have to be prepared to deal with the fact that our rights are generically violated by having government roads in the first place), then that guy (or "that state Supreme Court judge") driving with a .216% blood alcohol level is violating my rights in the same threatening manner: she will very probably kill me as she careens out of control, weaving back and forth across the highway.

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Uh, not so sure about that. He certainly has a higher potential to violate rights, but until he hits someone he hasn't violated a thing. A hazard is not a violation. I don't have a right to live in an environment scrubbed of all hazards.

I am a little unclear on what constitutes a violation of rights. If person A threatens person B with the use of force but has not yet acted on his threat, has person A violated person B's rights? Are the rights of person B, with respect to this issue, only violated when person A actually acts on his threat and attempts to inflict harm to person B's well being, property or loved ones?

If issuing a threat does constitute a violation of rights, must a threat include malicious intent to be a violation of rights? I see an individual who is driving at unsafe speeds with severely impaired motor skills due to intoxication as a serious threat to one's well-being even though the individual who is driving while intoxicated may be unaware of how many motorists he is presently putting at risk. (Of course, this does not exonerate the motorist from the repercussions his actions.) A similar argument would apply to someone who (stupidly) fires a semi-automatic weapon in a public place to express rage but lacks the intent to do anyone physical harm.

If issuing a threat is a violation of rights and malicious intent is not required for some actions to constitute as an issued threat then driving under a dangerous influence would be perceived as a violation of one's rights.

I am uncomfortable with the aforementioned conclusion since we could then induce that most lack of safety precautions would present some violation of someone's rights. I agree with KendallJ that he (and I guess everyone else as well :-) ) does not have the right to live in an environment completely devoid of all hazards.

::::::::: edited response below :::::::::

Wow, DavidOdden just answered my questions as I was composing this message. Thanks!

Edited by DarkWaters

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Let's take the case of the big ugly looking guy with a deer-slicing knife in his hand, whose approaching you with all deliberate speed and a nasty look on his face that tells you he's not planning on offering you a peacible trade of his pig-sticker for your wallet. I assume that you wouldn't say that his actions haven't violated anything until the blade actually enters your soon-to-be cold and lifeless body.

There is a point at which that potential or rights violation becomes so high that it isn't just a possibility that a rights violation will occur, it is probable that it will. That, I would say, is how you define a threat: and a threat is almost as good as the actual fact. The logic that say that the initiation of force includes the threat to perform a forceful act will also allow you to restrain a person who is acting in such an irresponsible fashion that it is probable he will actually do damage. I think we'd need to be more concrete about that probability, but that's a lesser detail. (BTW my understanding is that firing bullets into the air might be considered non-threatening only if literally fired straight up. There are numerous instances of people being hurt or killed a mile away from celebratory firing in New Orlenas, or there used to be until the lace got trashed and nobody lives there anymore).

If we assume the current road system (and we have to be prepared to deal with the fact that our rights are generically violated by having government roads in the first place), then that guy (or "that state Supreme Court judge") driving with a .216% blood alcohol level is violating my rights in the same threatening manner: she will very probably kill me as she careens out of control, weaving back and forth across the highway.

David, I agree wholeheartedly. I just want to make sure that we differentiate between hazard, threat, and an actual rights violation.

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Kendall raised a concern about a slippery slope; what stops the legal definition of "threat" from morphing into anything the democratic voters wish? I think he's right to be concerned.

What principles will stop the law slipping down the slope toward the average public opinion of "reasonableness" of a threat? Is there an objective way to define a threat, but in a way that abstracts out the specific type of threat. One would have to arrive at such a principle by induction from countless examples we have:

Why is it not a violation of my rights when someone ....

  • refuses to take his medicine, thus increasing the probability that others will catch his disease
  • drives after a single drink
  • drives a car without a catalytic converter

And, on the other hand, why is it a violation of rights when someone...

  • shouts "fire" in a crowded theater
  • plays loud music late at night in the middle of a residential neighborhood
  • sprays bullets without actually hitting anyone

In what terms would such a set of principles be framed? Historical precedent? Degree of risk?

Take the case of a disease. If the disease were extremely infectious and extremely dangerous, then it would be reasonable to insist that an infected person follow a certain protocol that reduces the risk to others to a reasonable level. Obviously, just because people think something is reasonable does not mean it is so; but, how does one frame a principle that defines reasonableness but is abstract (i.e. not framed in terms of the concretes of type of disease, the particular steps to reduce chance of infection). (Perhaps one needs an abstract constitutional rule as well.)

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I see no real difference between someone who is drunk and unable to control his car and someone who is sober and unable to control his car. Both people should be taken off the road, the drunk until he becomes sober and the other until they can prove they can control the car. I run into more 80 year-old people doing 30 in the hammer lane than i do drunks trying to hit me. I don't care about the level of intoxication, just their ability to control their car.

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I run into more 80 year-old people doing 30 in the hammer lane than i do drunks trying to hit me. I don't care about the level of intoxication, just their ability to control their car.

While I don't disagree with you in principle, I think statistics bear out that far more accidents and fatalities are caused by drivers who are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol as opposed to elderly drivers. My experience tends to indicate that elderly people driving are more of a hinderance or an annoyance than a danger.

Edited by RationalBiker

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Isnt that similar to someone driving 100mph in city streets? Except I see a lot of Objectivists propose that there shouldnt be any speed limit.

I'm not sure it's accurate to say that Objectivists oppose speed limits. More accurately, as I understand it, Objectivists oppose government owned and government controlled roads. If a private citizen owned some roads, I don't think you find any Objectivist objecting to that person establishing rules (including speed limits) for the use of their property.

That said, since we have to work under the system of government owned roads, I think the objection to speed limits is that they are somewhat arbitrary. Speaking for myself when I'm at work, I'm less concerned solely about the speed of a vehicle than I am the totality of it's operation and how much of a danger the operator is posing to life and property.

I'm not sure how easy it would be to derive a proper principle for governing traffic flow on government owned streets, but from a practical standpoint, I see no way around having government run traffic control including some level of speed enforcement. IMO, our roads would be utter chaos and dangerous without such controls.

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The owner of any road has the right to set the terms for the use of that road. For example, the owner(s) can specify speed limits and set a maximum blood alchohol level. Those who choose to use the road consent to abide by the rules.

In our current mixed economy, the roads are owned by the taxpayers, who, via their representatives, have chosen to specify a particular maximum blood alchohol level. A drunk driver violates the rights of all the taxpayers who choose not to have such people driving on their roads.

Given this explanation, I'm not sure prison would be an appropriate punishment. However, just as a private university has the right to expel a student for possession of drugs, I think it would make sense to suspend or revoke the driver's license of anyone who is caught driving drunk.

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I agree that a person who drives drunk should have his driver's license revoked, but I think jail might be appropriate as well.

Someone who drives drunk is endangering the lives of all of the people in close proximity on the road. He is not merely refusing to follow the rules.

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Ohio has a program, about a year old, where, instead of jail time, repeat DUI offenders have the option of completing a driving safety course and doing community service if they will also accept a bright yellow license plate with red numbers on their vehicle for 5 years. Some people have been calling it the "scarlet letter" program, because its purpose is to point out dangerous drivers to others on the road. I've seen several (about 10), and every single one has either been speeding excessively, yacking on the cell phone or otherwise driving like an obnoxious git. They've all been nice sedans and SUVs, too.

-Q

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Someone who drives drunk is endangering the lives of all of the people in close proximity on the road. He is not merely refusing to follow the rules.

Should someone get jail time for talking on the cell phone while driving? Some people can handle a car more easily while legally intoxicated than they can while having a conversation on the phone.

If a person is caught, while drunk, going 60 mph through a small neighborhood, I think the government could have a case for throwing him in jail for a short period of time. But if he was merely driving while intoxicated and did not do something specific with his car that put other people in immediate danger, then I don't think you can objectively prove that he did more than violate the rules.

Ohio has a program, about a year old, where, instead of jail time, repeat DUI offenders have the option of completing a driving safety course and doing community service if they will also accept a bright yellow license plate with red numbers on their vehicle for 5 years. Some people have been calling it the "scarlet letter" program, because its purpose is to point out dangerous drivers to others on the road. I've seen several (about 10), and every single one has either been speeding excessively, yacking on the cell phone or otherwise driving like an obnoxious git. They've all been nice sedans and SUVs, too.

-Q

I would definitely revoke the license of a repeat offender permanently. Make him get a bike or use the bus.

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I'm not sure how it is in other jurisdictions, but most, if not all, people arrested for DUI around here do not go to jail for the first offense (assuming no deaths are involved). It's only after they show a repeat problem of driving while intoxicated (2nd or subsequent offense) that they truly risk jail.

First offenders typically get a hefty fine, a restricted license and have to attend ASAP, an alcohol safety program. They may get a suspended jail sentence as well.

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While I don't disagree with you in principle, I think statistics bear out that far more accidents and fatalities are caused by drivers who are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol as opposed to elderly drivers. My experience tends to indicate that elderly people driving are more of a hinderance or an annoyance than a danger.

I don't doubt that there's more killed/injured by drunks, I was merely pointing out what I run into more. Normally they are running at incredibly low speeds so I imagine any accidents have limited damage/injury as opposed to drunks.

In our current mixed economy, the roads are owned by the taxpayers, who, via their representatives, have chosen to specify a particular maximum blood alchohol level. A drunk driver violates the rights of all the taxpayers who choose not to have such people driving on their roads.

Actually the states have the rights to set their own alchohol limits, but along with the speed limits and drinking age, the federal government extorts the states into passing lower limits or have funding revoked, hence the sudden drop from .1 to .08. Most states wouldn't have the limits where they are.

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Actually the states have the rights to set their own alchohol limits, but along with the speed limits and drinking age, the federal government extorts the states into passing lower limits or have funding revoked, hence the sudden drop from .1 to .08. Most states wouldn't have the limits where they are.

Both the state governments and the federal government represent the taxpayers. Whatever the history of the law, the taxpayers have chosen to set those limits.

(I don't think .08% is unreasonably low. I think it is possible for the average person to have two or in some cases three beers without exceeding that limit, and I don't think I want someone on the road even if he's only had two beers.)

Edited by danielshrugged

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(I don't think .08% is unreasonably low. I think it is possible for the average person to have two or in some cases three beers without exceeding that limit, and I don't think I want someone on the road even if he's only had two beers.)
How is it relevant what you want? I mean that seriously. What if most people decide "I wouldn't want anyone driving if they've even had a half a beer"? Would that then justify a .02% level? I don't think .1% is unreasonably high, and I don't mind having people on the road who have had three beers. Do we now have self-cancelling positions?

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They recently lowered the legal alcohol blood level limit to 0.01% here in the Netherlands. I think you're over the limit if you drink half a beer nowadays.

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