One for the Road
The related notion of “responsible drinking,” which implied moderate intake without harmful repercussions, would consistently be invoked as something that had no relationship to drunk driving and thus was acceptable.
Linker’s article also had a libertarian ﬂavor, underscoring another type of objection that would emerge. Some of what MADD, RID, and state legislaturesproposed, he wrote, were “draconian measures which severely encroach uponthe rights and liberty of the vast majority of New Yorkers.” True liberty, in con-trast, “entails the responsibility, in effect, to police ourselves.” Not surprisingly,Linker compared the current efforts to an earlier anti-alcohol movement. “Let us eliminate once and for all,” he declared, “the mystique and the myths about alcohol along with the attitudes that led to such follies as Prohibition and the WCTU (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union).”
It is not known how many letters the
received in response to Linker.It is possible that some were supportive. But the three writers whose letters were printed were highly negative. Twenty-ﬁve thousand Americans had died inalcohol-related crashes in
, one writer pointed out, with ninety-seven inSuffolk County alone. For a professor to advocate publicly any degree of drink-ing and driving was especially unfortunate, he added—“a tremendous disserviceto our young.” “What scares me to death,” one of the other correspondents wrote, “is Mr. Linker’s utter sincerity.”
This book, the ﬁrst history of drunk driving and efforts to control it in theUnited States, chronicles the century-long saga of one of the most controver-sial offenses committed by members of the public.
At ﬁrst glance, drunk drivingis among the clearest of crimes, one in which impaired individuals knowingly place themselves behind the wheel of vehicles that can wreak destruction whenout of control. But, as Linker’s piece reveals, such a viewpoint collides with otherfactors, notably, Americans’ love of alcohol, love of driving, and more abstractly,love of freedom and individual liberties. This book tells the stories of a diverse group of individuals:
doctors and advocates for alcoholics who promoted the sympatheticconcept of “alcoholism” in the years after the repeal of Prohibition;
scientists and policymakers who ﬁrst conceptualized drunk driving as amajor public health problem that was inexplicably being ignored;
representatives from the alcoholic beverage industry who promoted theidea of responsible drinking while carefully ensuring the continued salesof their product;