For years now Mothers Against Drunk Driving and affiliate organizations have been espousing the need to encourage the use of “designated drivers” to curb drunk driving offenses. These stances have been universally accepted and politically expedient to promote among both Democrats and Republicans politicians alike.
The promotion of policies to reduce the dangers caused by impaired driving is one that politicians clamor to rally behind. There is virtually no political cost to devote oneself to an issue that is in no way controversial and often serves as a cash cow for campaign contributions for politicians pandering to organizations devoted to traffic safety. Legislators on both sides of the aisle are not immune to throwing themselves behind this politically neutral policy position that serves to raise needed revenue from prospective campaign donors.
Unlike difficult economic hardships to address or controversial social issues to rally behind that may alienate an electoral block of eligible voters, advocating the cause of designated driving activity has been seen as an unobjectionable issue for politicians to advocate by which to justify their political standing, whether in the halls of congress or within state capitals nationwide.
Not unlike Indiana legislators yearly zeal to increase punishments for owi and various other crimes, (although even this trend has finally been slowed by the financial costs of prison overcrowding), the unintended consequences of such politically expedient conduct can tend to gloss over dangers posed by even the most seeming uncontroversial public policy issues.
With such a wellspring of political capital and publicly funded tax dollars expended over two decades to condition the general public on the fail safe need to encourage seeking out the proverbial “designated driver” at all costs, not so much of a minute of time has been spent, dare I say, in examining the potential perils directed toward impaired individuals seeking the aid of of such third party individuals.
Recent tragic events that have unfolded within Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University, have promoted discussion as to the dangers inherent among unaccompanied woman seeking the services of designated drivers in the wake of drinking activity.
In the most recent occurrence, an Indiana University female senior who by all accounts was beloved among so many people within the campus community and beyond was senselessly killed by a middle aged male who police officials suspect had been stalking the college co ed.
Initially, rumors suggested that the male suspect responsible for the killing in question had either been, or posed as a fake “Uber” driver to gain the trust and access of the unaccompanied woman seeking the assistance of a designated driver following an evening of drinking within a local hotel. Uber has been compelled to respond that the suspected individual was not a recognized driver endorsed by their company. Further, for the purpose of this article there has been no definitive information to conclusively establish whether Uber or any other transportation service was in any way affiliated with the suspected motorist apprehended within this most recent homicide.
However, as events and possible theories for the crime have been suggested and debated, there has been a daunting recognition that public or private transportation companies in any form can present their own unique dangers in the form of employed motorists capable of preying among the most vulnerable of the general public. Whether on point in regards to the eventual disclosed allegations within this case or not, the subject of potential threats posed by third party designated drivers has now been injected into the public discourse.
Third party use of cabs or public transportation have often been referenced as the first line of defense in the promotion of public safety through the use of designated drivers. These third party for profit public transportation companies, whether they be cabs, limousines or otherwise, have been all too eager to market themselves as the recognized endorsed promoter of public safety in the fight against drunk driving. It is not uncommon for these companies to allow self interest to advertise this fight toward promoting the public’s well being, coincidentally by the responsible use of their paid services.
For years these businesses catering to transporting impaired individuals home safely have been given a free pass from scrutiny in regard to the potential victimization of vulnerable individuals (mostly women) at the hands of third party motorists who shift from responsible rescuer to abuser. How much do we as a society know about the hiring practices of these for profit third party transportation providers entrusted to fulfill the nationally promoted policies in regard to designated drivers?
It turns out not much. Without needed focus upon a national regulatory scheme governing required background security checks of those granted the ability to control the actions of inebriated passengers locked within their vehicles, the promotion of “for profit” designated driving activity is ripe for potential tragedy not unlike the events recently occurring within Bloomington.
There is little doubt that designated driving activity is a cause worthy of promotion. However, what cannot be continued is the willingness of zealots against the public consumption of alcohol in any form to continue to discount public discourse on the need to promote scrutiny of third party for profit designated drivers.
Drawing upon all of my years within Indianapolis criminal courtrooms as a barometer, I can state unequivocally that the general public is worthy of more trust in reaching responsible conclusions on these issues than Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and their sister organizations choose to believe. Working toward more uniform and comprehensive public safety policies that will better insure that third party designated drivers have no history of criminal conduct and/or psychological issues relative to dangers posed to members of the general public is a pursuit that should not be feared. Rather, such actions can only serve to underscore public confidence in both the use and promotion of third party for profit designated drivers that has not always been demanded at the present time.
The ideal use of designated drivers not always delineated by anti alcohol organizations needs to be that between known designated drivers without profit motive and those drivers employed and/or compensated for transporting inebriated individuals for a fee. While one seeking out the aid of a designated driver known to the impaired individual can nonetheless result in tragic consequences, it is the ultimate responsibility of legislative activity to both reduce the prospect of risk and promote the cause of scrutiny toward the use of designated drivers who in any way impact interstate commerce. As such, the commerce cause of the United States constitution allows for the legal intervention of needed legislative action directed toward for profit enterprise benefiting from the designated driving industry.
Unfortunately, it is my belief that these dangers posed by third party profit drivers have thus far been swept under the rug of public debate at the hands of politicians and public policy organizations too actively invested in the promotion of designated driving activity at all costs. The emerging success and proliferation of services such as Uber only serve to reinforce the need to institute reform and public awareness as to the increased threat posed to vulnerable citizens who have been conditioned to seek out the services of a designated driver without adequate consideration.
Unaccompanied individuals, be they male or female, must be particularly mindful of the issues presented within this editorial. Whether a designated driver in question is known or a stranger acting in a “for profit” capacity, the best defense against the harm potentially presented by a designated driver is the recognition that one’s ultimate safety can never be assured when captive within a vehicle as a result of a diminished mental capacity.