Should convicted drunk drivers be banned from buying alcohol?

A new bill in Oklahoma proposes to ban those with DUI convictions from buying alcohol in the state. Would such a law be progressive – or pointless? 

Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo/File
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, left, looks on as Garry Thomas, right, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, gestures during a news conference one a new initiative to reduce the number of people who drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs in Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014.

Those who can't buy alcohol are less likely to drive drunk.

This at least seems to be the reasoning behind a new bill, laid out by Oklahoma state Sen. Patrick Anderson (R), which proposes that people arrested for driving under the influence be banned from buying alcohol for a probationary period. The legislation would also require those with DUI convictions to carry a replacement ID card marked “alcohol restricted,” and would make it a crime for others to buy liquor for someone under the restriction.

Research results point to the effectiveness of banning products towards improving health and safety. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health determined that alcohol-related traffic deaths increased after the Sunday liquor ban in New Mexico was lifted in 1995. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies also show that laws preventing smoking in public places help improve the health of both workers and the general population. And an Indiana University study published in 2011 also found that an on-campus smoking ban helped reduce the percentage of smokers at the school. 

Yet some experts doubt the proposed bill's ability to be properly implemented. For instance, the law lacks provisions for alcohol in food and for taking wine with communion, Oklahoma city attorney David Slane told local network KOKH-TV.

"Keep in mind the consumption of alcohol has never been illegal unless you were underage, and in this case they are saying we want the court to enforce something that's almost unenforceable,” Mr. Slane said.

Indeed, it has proven difficult to carry out prohibitions on certain legal products under specific conditions. Tobacco, for instance, is heavily regulated, and 36 states have laws that ban smoking in designated areas such as workplaces, restaurants, and bars. But the sale and distribution of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes are still illegal only to minors.

In 2013, a drunk driving bill similar to Oklahoma’s was proposed in New Mexico, but lawmakers there do not appear to have moved forward with the measure. 

Mr. Anderson’s proposal comes just months after Oklahoma passed a law making it easier for prosecutors to confiscate vehicles belonging to drunk drivers – a response to reports that the state failed to keep up with the rest of the nation in cracking down on alcohol-related traffic deaths.

“We’re bad,” Garry Thomas, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, told the nonprofit investigative journalism group Oklahoma Watch in 2013. The group found that drunk driving deaths in the state rose 10 percent between 1994 and 2012, even as the figure dropped 20 percent across the United States in the same time period.

“We couldn’t get much worse,” Thomas said.

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