Unreasonable laws defeat own purpose

A new Illinois law requires a minimum three-year drivers license suspension for anyone convicted of drunk driving twice in a 20-year period. Rep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, praised the new law as “One of the best drunk driving packages we’ve ever come up with.”

The stricter law is designed to get tough on those drunk drivers Countryman referred to as “habitual people.” Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines “habit” as “a usual manner of behavior” or “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”

The Illinois legislators had to stretch this meaning awfully far to conclude that two drunk driving convictions in a 20-year period represent habitual behavior. They are assuming anyone caught driving drunk twice in 20 years probably is guilty of “frequent repetition” of this behavior.

This assumption necessarily leads to a second: the police are positively inept at catching drunk drivers. Anyone who reads the “arrests” portion of their local paper knows this is false.

It’s no secret that drunk drivers kill more people each year than the total number of Americans who died during the course of the Vietnam war. No one denies that there is a real need for stricter laws to try to prevent this incredible loss of innocent life. A person doesn’t have to lose a loved one to a drunk driver to appreciate the anguish of those who have.

But laws must be reasonable, or people lose respect for the legal system and refuse to obey laws they find unreasonable. Consider the number of people who don’t wear seat belts simply because they think it’s none of the government’s business whether they buckle up. They find the intrusion to be unreasonable, even though they acknowledge the risks involved.

Most people could probably agree that it’s reasonable to assume that a person caught driving drunk twice in a two-year, three-year, or even a five-year period probably just got lucky the other times they drove drunk. A five-year period would be a sensible limit—it’s fair to the offender and protects society at the same time.

Twenty years is a huge chunk of a person’s lifetime. It simply isn’t reasonable to assume that because someone is arrested today for drunk driving and was convicted 19 years ago for the same offense, that this person drives drunk as a matter of habit—that this is their “usual manner of behavior.”

Drunks don’t drive that well—and the police aren’t that incompetent.