Writing about alcohol regulation, Tyler Cowen observes that "Penalties for drunk driving should be much stricter." This is true. Our whole system of punishment around this topic is really messed up. The tendency is to punish people by restricting their ability to drive. The problem is that in most parts of the US, driving around is a requirement for living an adult life. The penalty is too severe, enforcement gets spotty, sentences are brief. Then, when people talk about making the laws tougher, the current trend is to ratchet-down the prohibited blood-alcohol content level to a point where some drunk drivers are, arguably, not actually doing anything worthy of severe punishment.

Mark Kleiman has proposed the idea that instead of showing your driver's license when you go into a bar or liquor store that you should need to show a "drinking license" and that could be suspended for alcohol-related misconduct including driving. That's the sort of penalty one could realistically apply to violators on a widespread basis, but that also could act as a meaningful deterrent for people who like to drink. Then you'd have to make the penalties for serving (or buying) without a license severe. And you could maybe give older teens the choice between a drinking license and a driving license, rather than trying to curtail teen drunk driving purely by curtailing teen drinking.

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