PLACERVILLE, CA —Richard Moody isn’t in favor of driving drunk; he’s just opposed to hysteria. He organized a local effort to make it clear that drinking and driving are not equivalent to driving drunk.
Moody ran into a hysterical response to drinking and driving in his hometown of Placerville, called Hangtown in the Gold Rush days. Moody found out the “hang ‘em high” attitude had outlived the shiny stuff.
At the instigation of two El Dorado County Supervisors, legislation was passed providing a $100 reward for tips on drunk drivers. If a citizen suspected someone else of drunk driving, they could hit a pay phone and call in the suspect’s license number to the Sheriff. If an arrest was made, the caller got $100.
“They had quite a few calls from people who just wanted revenge against somebody else,” Moody says. “That program was the basis for forming our organization, Drinkers United for Influence (DUI).
“It got to the point where every bar in town was staked out and license numbers were run on cars parked in front to see where the people lived so the authorities would know which way they were going home.
“We were not proponents of drunken driving,” Moody says. “But — it is not against the law to drink and drive. It is against the law to drive drunk.” Moody and DUI set out to make that distinction clear.
“If you’re going to have legitimate businesses — if you’re going to have a bar — then you’ve got to allow people to drink in the bar! You can’t restrain business or frighten people away. If you license someone to do something, then don’t come around and hound them to death.”
About then the Yellow Snow Incident took place.
It was snowing at the summit of Donner Pass and traffic was piled up from the chain control point as motorists way up ahead struggled to get chains onto their wheels. Miles from a rest stop, halted in a snowstorm, a motorist walked into the trees and took a leak. He was arrested and the evidence at his trial before Judge Eugene Rasmussen was “yellow snow.”
Because the motorist had been drinking — he wasn’t drunk — avid non-drinker Judge Rasmussen gave him six months in jail! And the Yellow Snow case made the front pages. The jurist’s response, according to Moody, was, “If you hadn’t been drinking, you wouldn’t have had a problem.”
“When he came up for re-election, we targeted Judge Rasmussen and we got him defeated,” Moody says quietly. DUI also retired the two anti-alcohol demons on the County Board of Supervisors in the same election.
This is how it happened.
As then-president of the Placerville Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association, Moody persuaded all 58 members of the Association to turn their bars into voter registration sites.
“At the time they registered to vote, we had bar patrons fill out a request for an absentee ballot…to be mailed to the bars!”
The ballots arrived three weeks before the election, and during those three weeks, when a new voter would stop by for a cool one, they were given their ballot and asked to consider voting against the anti-drinking supervisors and Judge Rasmussen.
The drive brought more than 2,000 absentee voters into play.
“We didn’t have enough people to elect, but we did have enough people to defeat a candidate,” Moody says.
As a result of the stand made by DUI and its bar operator and customer members, the attitude in El Dorado County has changed, Moody says, and more people understand that there is a difference between drinking and driving and driving drunk.
There have been other changes besides the defeat of three candidates. The Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association got a member on the county’s Alcohol & Drug Program board. “And we were instrumental in serving on committees appointed by the Board of Supervisors to consider issues that affect our type of trade,” Moody adds.
The $100 drunk finder’s fee program is dead, and so is the practice of lying in wait for bar patrons. But some of the group’s good ideas remain only ideas.
One of the things DUI advocated was that roadside coordination tests should be compared, not to some abstract norm, but to each individual’s personal best. A test for physical coordination would be made at the time of each license renewal and used as a base.
DUI has disbanded after doing most of what they set out to do. Now no voices are raised against the “drunk driver” over-reaction. There are no Dick Moodys to stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute!”
In a typical year the California Highway Patrol recorded 2,048 alcohol-related traffic fatalities. In that same year 141,976 people were arrested in the state because they couldn’t walk backwards while touching their noses and flapping their arms as a man with a big gun decided how their lives would change. Does anyone believe that if they hadn’t been arrested there would have been 139,928 more fatal accidents? Roll up your pants . . . it’s too late to save your shoes.
J. Edgar Hoover created the American Communist Party Menace because he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do anything about organized crime. Now the Police Establishment has created the Drunken Driver Menace because they can’t do anything about Uzi-wielding crack gangs or the guys who kick in your door while you’re at work and take your color television.
And then there’s that part of the U.S. Constitution that fell early victim to the hysteria. The Fifth Article of the Bill of Rights: “No person shall . . . be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself …” The roadside gymnastics, Breathalyzer and blood tests clearly violate that protection, but try to convince a Judge Rasmussen.
Still, if you have a drink before dinner and wine with dinner, you could be arrested on the way home from your favorite restaurant because you might possibly cause an accident. And, the star witness against you, will be you!
By the time you pay for the arresting officer’s time and a lawyer and fines and the gigantic leap in your car insurance premium, you’re likely to be out six grand.