23 June 2011

Process or Object?

In America we have a few oddities.

We claim that our laws are to meant to prevent a kind of behavior that leads to a kind of harm.

We're process oriented about it.

Process, put simply, is how we achieve an object.  It's the path to the destination.  It is possible to become so focused on how you are doing something you forget what it is you were trying to do in the first place.

Drunk driving is a decent example.  The object of drunk driving laws is to keep drunks from careening into people and property causing death and destruction.

So we ban having a blood alcohol content above a given mark (0.08% here).  That's process oriented.

It punishes a SAFE drunk driver along with the DANGEROUS ones.

How do I know there are safe drunk drivers?  Because I can see how spotty police coverage is.  They cannot be everywhere and there are certainly impaired people who drive home without damaging a thing.  There are people who do it repeatedly.  Arresting them for drunk driving will not change a thing, really.  They are already out there not hurting anyone.

Let's get back to the object.  We want to prevent people from being killed and property from being destroyed.  Yes, an impaired person is more likely to have that sort of "incident" than a sober one.  It's not a certainty that an impaired person will have an accident than it's a surety a sober one will avoid all collisions.

We looked hard at this in the early '80s and did the math and found that people become impaired at around 0.10% blood alcohol content and that impaired people were a lot more likely to have accidents.  We cranked up the enforcement and put some very harsh penalties on violators.  Quite a few people punished and the number of accidents caused by drunks dropped quite sharply.  Process fitted to achieve the object!

The problem, time and again, with successful efforts like this is the as number of people deterred increases that causes the number of people caught to decrease.  So we have people who helped get the useful process put into place to propose things that suit them politically, but do not affect the objective.

Like dropping the BAC to 0.08%.  Why yes! the number of people caught spiked again after the level was lowered.  What didn't happen, this time, was a drop in accidents caused by intoxicated drivers.  Why?  Because at 0.08% most people aren't impaired.  There was a reason that 0.10% was chosen, that was the threshold were impairment began for most people.

Also part of focusing on the process is how the police manage to maneuver "probable cause" around to be able to apply a breathalyzer to someone showing no outward signs of intoxication.  People complaining about the Pima County SWAT team's violations of the 4th amendment who never complain about traffic stops should stop complaining.

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