Lawyers, Legislators, and Loopholes
29 Dec 2010
A couple of weeks ago, I ran across this story about California’s new “Brett Studebaker Law”.
Brett Studebaker was a 19 year old man, who attended his friend’s birthday party on a so-called “party bus” in Burlingame, California.
As in most American jurisdictions, the legal drinking age in California is 21.
After riding around in a “party bus”, and consuming alcohol until his Blood Alcohol Concentration was at least 0.23, he got back into his own car, drove it into a soundwall, bounced off, hit another vehicle and died.
His family has been pushing this new law, which is being promoted as necessary to close a “loophole”, that allows organizers of these “party buses” to close a blind eye to underage drinkers who bring their own alcohol aboard.
I am less than impressed.
Brett Studebaker did not die because he was on a party bus. He died because he drove while impaired. There is no loophole here to close: it was illegal for him to consume alcohol, and it was illegal for him to drive while impaired.
This law is simply a means of diverting the responsibility for his own poor judgment onto others. Those others, in this case, are the “party bus” organizers, and on to the legislature.
Clearly, some blame belongs with the party bus organizers. There is clearly a moral obligation to prevent people to whom they have provided the opportunity to become seriously impaired from then climbing into their own cars and driving. That, however, is a moral obligation and is quite apart from any legal duty.
It is not fair to offload the blame onto the legislature and the law. One might say that the organizers didn’t apparently serve alcohol Brett Studebaker. He brought his own, and so there is a loophole.
The answer to that is that people will always find a way around the law. There is no perfect legislation, that perfectly seals away and prevents every mischief, and the attempt to find that kind of legal solution is a fool’s errand. The ability of the law is limited, and in the end, we generally hold people accountable for their own free acts.
The ultimate responsibility in this case lies on the person who decided to drive while impaired. Brett Studebaker was not a child. He was 19, and the society that he grew up in condemned impaired driving. Nonetheless, he made the decision to become impaired, and the subsequent decision to drive.
The fault for that is his, and his alone. He should not be portrayed as the victim of some legal “loophole”.