Do you have happy memories of Halloween nights when you were a kid? Counting and sorting your loot? Secretly getting away with eating too much until you got sick?
If yes, then congratulations. You lived through the experience.
I know of at least four young people from Halloween 2014 that will never get the same chance.
Why 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
- Source: MADD – Statistics
- 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.
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Admittedly there is at least one major bummer about being an atheist. It’s a pretty big one, too. Quite simply: I’m deprived of a bunch of gods. Dammit. I guess that comes with the territory. So, in self defense, I learned to pray only to the Great Airlock.
“Oh, Great Airlock, please hear my humble plea.”
“I’m sorry, Tom. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
It’s easy to see how the Great Airlock could come in handy. Alas, it never quite works out that way. The Airlock is a cruel god. But you still gotta believe, right?
I’ve pontificated about The Great Airlock in the past. In theory, He represents immutable consequences to choice and action. The origin mythology is exceedingly simple: When the button is pushed the door opens. The door cares not what is on the Other Side. The door cares not if the occupant is ready. The door opens. The results are what they are. Nothing can change that. Nothing. Not even a god.
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“I’m sorry for what I did,” they sobbed. “Fleeing the scene of the accident is the biggest mistake of my life.”
I do not doubt the sincerity. The young person was just sentenced to more than three years in prison. Also a mother, the woman was losing her son. I do, however, doubt the judgment. I doubt the assessment that the decision to run was the mistake. Sadly it was only the tip of a titanic-sized iceberg and wasn’t the first or last lapse of judgement on her part.
Where did things go awry? It was hours before the accident when a totally sober person made the decision to embark on an evening of drink with no thought process to address simple questions like, “How will I get myself home?”
The person who made that decision, although fully conscious, uncompromised and presumably rational, didn’t stop to consider the possibility of fateful events. Such planning didn’t rise to the level of being important. There was fun to be had.
Of course, we all know decision-making skills hit the toilet as soon as strong drink hits the gullet. That’s the way it works. No big surprise there. That’s why it’s prudent to make such important decisions and plans well before the alcohol begins to flow.
The record shows the young person didn’t exercise much care when it came to driving. Her driver’s license had been suspended at least four times since 2009. She had at least 12 convictions on traffic offenses (none DUII related) since 2007. Offenses included speeding, not wearing a seat belt, driving with a suspended license, and use of a cell phone while driving.
Without a plan and legally intoxicated, the decision was made. The young person would operate a motor vehicle while drunk. It would be a fateful night.
Meanwhile, not too far away, a bicyclist had a flat tire. In the dark and on the side of the road, he was then hit from behind by the drunk driver. He was sent to the hospital ICU unit. He suffered several broken bones, including both legs, a ruptured spleen and other minor injuries.
The driver did not stop. She did not render assistance to her victim. Her alcohol-addled brain deduced (rightfully so) that she’d get in trouble. It was her choice to flee. Apparently what she was unable to deduce was that her very best option at that moment was to do the right thing. And that was something her hobbled mind was unable to fathom.
It didn’t end there, though.
Later, once she was sober and presumably had her normal decision-making abilities restored, her next move was to take her car to a body shop in a calculated attempt to conceal what she had done. Luckily someone tipped off police and, finally, once she was left with no other recourse, she made a decision to take responsibility and turn herself in. It was a long time coming and had little meaning by then.
Once again, I conclude things like this come down to a lack of empathy and an inability to reason consequences for our own actions. Young people, it seems to me, are especially prone to this of late. The news reports are rife with hit-and-run cases. It almost feels like hit-and-run is now standard procedure rather than an aberration.
In this case, in addition to jail, the judge also suspended her driver’s license for five years. That feels woefully insignificant to me. Without significant consequences, behavior will not change. She should have lost her driving privileges for life. Not merely because she drove drunk but because of all the choices she made.
Prison isn’t exactly known as a system that churns out improved persons. So, apparently, our future has the possibility of this woman back behind the wheel. I do not like the thought of that.
Have you been in a traffic accident? The first thing you should probably do is check to see if another vehicle was involved. If yes, you’ve probably still got some kind of a shot. If not, you probably just screwed up big time.
A traffic accident with only one vehicle tends to be a problem. These are known as Single-Vehicle Accidents or SVAs. In such an accident the implication is that, short of other evidence, the accident was caused by operator error. Insurance companies typically assign fault to the driver in SVAs, short of acts of God, flying objects, etc.
Blinded by the sun? Too bad. You’re still operating a motor vehicle with great capacity to kill. Hit a pothole and cause $5,000 damage to your ride? Yeah, the city sucks but it’s still on you. Like it or not, in most cases, an SVA is usually the driver’s fault.
When I hear about an SVA it always makes me think.
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I freely admit it. I cried like a little girl that first night in jail. They say never let ’em see weakness but I couldn’t help it. But at the same time I wasn’t oblivious. I could see the other prisoners betting cigarettes on how long I’d last. But I’d show ’em all!
The next day I was released to the yard along with everyone else. Dammit. Then a big mean looking bald guy approached me. Here it comes, I thought. This is how it ends for me.
“What are you in for, man?” he asked me.
I looked him straight in the eye. “Seat belt violations, motherfucker,” I said. “One shitload of tickets.”
They pretty much left me alone after that…
I’ll be straight up with you. I think our nation’s fixation with programs like Click It Or Ticket (CIOT) is misguided. And I’ll tell you why.
Some argue that CIOT is a violation of our civil rights. They say that government has no business in coercing us to take care of ourselves. This is especially a sticking point for opponents of motorcycle helmet laws.
Some have argued that seat belt enforcement is an invasion of our privacy because officers have to look into vehicles without probable cause.
These are interesting points that may or may not have some validity. But I say fuck all that as irrelevant. I say that safety enforcement should be prioritized based on a very simple criteria. Just for fun, I’ll call it who is the meat with the brain splatter.
This approach is a simple one and seeks to understand who is at risk, not the nature of the infraction.
Consider an idiot who drives without their seat belt. Who’s meat are they risking? Their own. If they decide to go SVA (single vehicle accident) into a tree or roll their rig, they are the ones who will suffer from brain splatter. SVAs are a special case that, unless the result of something like mechanical failure or acts of God, are generally textbook examples of self-Darwinism. The vast majority of SVAs are caused by intoxicants, excessive speed, and/or operator error.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that shoveling up the brain splatter can be disturbing, but that’s not a valid reason for prioritizing enforcement of seat belt laws artificially high. Besides, the people who scrape up brains – that’s their job. One that probably pays two to three times what I make, and with excellent benefits, too. Sorry, they can deal with it.
Note: I’m not talking about children here. The drivers of vehicles have a moral obligation to protect underage passengers. (This will be address by my hypothesis below.)
The same thing goes for motorcycle helmets, too. When I ride I always wear a helmet. You’d have to be a friggin’ moron to do otherwise. (Case in point: See Ben Rothlisberger.) My head happens to be where I store my gray matter and I’m pretty fucking partial to that shit. It’s all-important to me and oh-so-fragile and irreplaceable, so yeah, I’m going to protect it. Therefore I have never ridden without a full helmet. None of that “screw the cops” half-helmet bullshit for me.
Again, though, if you opt to ride without a helmet, who are you risking? Yourself. Sure, you might get brains on someone’s windshield but the presence (or not) of your helmet is not very likely to have a life or death impact on others.
So why the emphasis on the enforcement of laws like these? Where the friggin’ hell are the programs for things like red light runners? Ever heard of one? I sure haven’t.
The thing with red light runners is that they put the lives of other people than themselves at extreme high risk of serious injury and death. If we want to enforce some traffic laws, why the hell don’t we start with something like that?
My hypothesis is simple:
Proactive enforcement of traffic safety laws should be prioritized based on the danger to innocent people.
Drivers who refuse to wear seat belts, stupid and annoying though they may be, by far only pose a significant risk to themselves. Therefore, under my hypothesis, enforcement prioritization of seat belt laws would be minimal.
Drivers under the effects of intoxicants greatly risk the lives of innocent people, therefore proactive enforcement for that should be very high. Ditto for those who dangerously break laws like running red lights.
To this day our DUII laws are far too gutless. Yes, the enforcement prioritization is there, as it should be. There are DUII programs and funding. But the punishments are far too lax. If I had my say, upon conviction for a first offense the offender would lose their license to drive for three years and the vehicle, regardless of ownership, would be forfeit. Period. A punishment would sure make vehicle owners think about driving while intoxicated, eh? And it would force employers and friends to be highly discriminating of who they trusted with their wheels, too.
A second conviction would result in a loss of driving privileges for life and mandatory jail time.
Talking on cell phones while driving or, worse yet, texting, is rightly getting attention, too. For once, things might be working as they should. Rare, I know. When innocent lives hang in the balance due to egregious selfishness and stupidity, enforcement must drop like a hammer and the laws must have enough teeth to actually make a difference and weed out the most foolish amongst us.
Similarly, I’d drastically increase enforcement on red light runners. Too many people get impatient and take liberties with red lights that they shouldn’t. In my town the problem is at epidemic levels and law enforcement still doesn’t do jack shit about the problem. There is no funding and no enforcement prioritization. I predict it won’t be long until a vehicle is t-boned or a pedestrian is flattened and innocent lives are irrevocably destroyed.
In my experience law enforcement is supposed to have a proactive component. I’ve heard a figure that says 43% of law enforcement should be proactive. (Our local police aren’t there yet.) But the way it seems to work is that this doesn’t happen unless there is some grant that funds overtime, which is fantastically probably the most inefficient way to prosecute things like traffic safety programs. And that grant money is typically narrowly restricted to very specific applications, like CIOT, DUII or pedestrian stings. Those who give out grant money don’t want local communities making their own prioritization decisions. So the money comes with strings attached.
CIOT, for example, is typically conducted with overtime paid for my “federal highway safety grant funding.” Where is the funding for red light enforcement programs, if there even is such a thing?
Why so much emphasis on CIOT? My personal theory is that it is based on some sort of “do-gooder complex.” Some apparently see it as their role to force people take care of themselves. Sounds like they have control issues to me. Perhaps they’ll also come up with a program to enforce restrictions on Texas contributions to world cuisine like deep-fried twinkies, deep-fried pork ribs, deep-fried cheesecake, deep-fried Coke, chicken fried bacon, deep-fried banana splits, deep-fried beer, and, of course, deep-fried butter.
Fuck that. Fund the traffic safety programs that prioritize the increased safety of innocent people. The innocent must be prioritized above the moronic!
Are you a moron? Do you have a death wish? I say fine and dandy. Feel free to take yourself out, hopefully before you’ve procreated and passed along your genes. We shouldn’t spend our time, money and resources trying to stop you.
Let’s concentrate on protecting the innocent instead. Let us prioritize the safety of the innocent above the safety of the stupid.