Drunk Plank

shot-glass-and-car-keysWhy do we tolerate? Why do we, as a society, utterly lack the spine to properly address the problem of drunk driving? Our inaction is basically a way of saying, “We accept the loss of innocent lives as an irrationality inherent in the system and one that we are powerless or unwilling to prevent.”

We are not powerless. More can and should be done. All we have to do is defeat the apathy that comes along with “it hasn’t affected me personally … yet.”

Some basic stats:

  • Each day, people drive drunk almost 300,000 times, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested.1
  • In 2011, 226 children were killed in drunk driving crashes. Of those, 122 (54% percent) were riding with the drunk driver.1
  • Since 1982 fatalities have decreased by 51%. Since 1991 they’ve declined by 35%. However, fatalities increased from 2011 to 2012.2
  • There are about 9,000 to 10,000 fatalities per year due to drunk driving in the United States.2
  1. Source: MADD – Statistics
  2. Source: The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility

The other day I was reading about a famous U.S. bicyclist who traveled the world and “supported the message of peace” and had been killed while bicycling in Russia. Ron McGerity, age 60, had visited 61 countries over the past 15 years and logged more than 75,000 miles on his bike. He was hit and killed by a truck driver who fled the scene and was later located and suspected by police of being drunk. (Source: RT.)

In a different case, a young mother was killed by a drunk driver leaving two young children behind. The drunk driver also survived.

Far too many innocent lives are lost. Far too many innocent lives are irrevocably affected.

So why is this still such a problem? I believe it’s because we don’t do enough to stop it.

Curious about solutions, I googled and found a few ideas:

  1. Police roadblocks
  2. Lowering the limit
  3. Twice-a-day breathalyzer tests programs for repeat offenders and first-timers caught at twice the legal limit
  4. Overtime cops

It seems far too little to my way of thinking.

Idea #3 is intriguing. As done in South Dakota, the premise is that offenders are ordered to stay away from alcohol for three months. As long as they test clean, they are allowed to stay out of jail, keep their jobs and live with their families. The state’s attorney general reported that under the program repeat offenders were “far less likely” to get another DUI.

Ideas like these are a good start. I feel they would work well with increased punishments and incentives to affect behavior.

One possible and obvious incentive is a Designated Driver Program (DDP). When’s the last time you’ve been to a restaurant or bar and ever heard of one? I know I haven’t. I find that to be deplorable and sad.

You would think that the businesses that serve alcohol would want to take a more proactive role in protecting their livelihood, their customers, and, oh hell, maybe even contribute to the greater good. You’d think that DDPs would be all over the place. Sadly, they are not.

Therefore my idea is to legislate it in the name of the greater good. You want to be in the business of selling alcohol? You can do your little bit to help. How about free non-alcoholic sodas (which cost you pennies) for the bloke volunteering to drive your paying customers safely home? Is that too much to ask?

Hell, I’d go even farther. If a designated driver accompanies three people eating dinner and ordering alcoholic drinks, he should get free sodas and a free meal to boot! I’m confident some weak-assed watered-down minimum standards could be hammered out. A law with real teeth would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. It would be fought tooth and nail to the bitter end.

Web-based services like Yelp could really take a leadership role in this regard, too, by modifying their system to filter based on DDPs and give various incentives to participating merchants.

Now then, on the punishment side, I see lots of room for improvement. So many opportunities here mainly because we’re so damn weak. What’s the point of catching those 4,000 intoxicated drivers per day if we just toss them back in a never-ending cycle of catch and release?

The punishments need to be meaningful and memorable starting on the very first offense.

Assuming a first offense for DUI without death, injury or property damage, I’d propose an automatic loss of driver’s license for a minimum of 12 months. It could be a restricted license with the ability to drive to and from work as long as terms of the twice-a-day conditions are met.

For any subsequent offense, or one where there is twice the legal limit or any injury or damage of any kind, there should be the following minimum punishments:

  • Seizure of vehicle (regardless of ownership) with proceeds to support alcohol responsibility programs.
  • Immediate loss of driver’s license.
  • Minimum jail time.

This sounds harsh, doesn’t it? To me, not so much if you stop and consider driving while intoxicated as an act of attempted murder. Why not let the consequences reflect that?

Lastly, a word about hit-and-run. It is my opinion that any amount of alcohol in a driver’s system dramatically increases the odds of flight from accidents, whether they were responsible for them or not. We need to enhance our justice system to meet this threat, too. In my city a drunk woman recently hit two bicyclists and, because she was drunk, decided to flee. The existing consequences of hit-and-run were not sufficient, at least in her mind, to prevent the attempt to avoid any responsibility for her actions.

In this way, a decision to drink any amount of alcohol before driving is where where you give up control and voluntarily put yourself into situations where you may have to make decisions like this, even if accidents weren’t your fault. Why would anyone choose to take on that level of risk?

I believe the time has come to really do more to address the problems of intoxicated driving in our society. If not, we’re choosing to continue the paradigm where the biggest assholes among us will continue to hurt innocent people.

One response

  1. It’s a fascinating problem — because practically (and cynically) you have a very large industry (bars and restaurants) that rely on selling booze, but to be safe, you have to give people rides both to and from a destination. Perks for designated drivers are maybe the best way to get that more ingrained, but I really don’t know any people that employ it.

    I think more than laws and penalties, the answer might come from technology. Have a sensor in your car that measure BAC. Too high and the car won’t start. Bingo. Problem solved.


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