Driving while sleep deprived can be as dangerous as driving while drunk. Why are drunk drivers treated like the devil incarnate while drowsy drivers barely raise an eyebrow?
There is a reasonable case for having drunk driving illegal and ignoring drowsy driving: since the former is much easier to objectively measure, the cost of enforcement is lower. Legality is not what I’m talking about, though. If I’m at the pub, have had a few and declare that I’m going to drive home, there’s going to be an uproar. How could I do such an irresponsible thing?
If I’m at the office, admit to not having slept in 30 hours, and make the same declaration (perhaps half-joking that I hope to make it home without falling asleep), people might tell me to be careful, but will not attempt to stop me or even question the morality of my decision.
I can think of five possible explanations for this:
1. People don’t know that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.
2. Drinking is a demerit good, and people are thereby more willing to criticize its negative externalities.
3. People think drink driving is immoral because it is illegal.
4. People have been inundated with anti-drunk driving propaganda* and have internalized it.
5. People really feel the same way about drunk and drowsy driving, but criticism of the former is socially sanctioned while that of the latter is not.
I don’t think 1 works, since when I’ve made this argument to people, they’re still inclined to see drunk and drowsy driving as morally asymmetric. They get that look of cognitive dissonance as they realise their moral judgements aren’t entirely consistent. As for 2, I’ve seen the anti-drunk driving reaction among twenty-something New Zealanders many times. This is not a demographic which sees drinking as a demerit good.
I’m going for some combination of 3, 4 and 5. As a libertarian, this displeases me greatly.
*I wish there were a less morally-charged word for what I mean, but there isn’t.