Drinking and Driving: Not an Accident!

It’s approximately 5:15 in the afternoon on a beautiful fall day. *Trish has just left the child care center where her three year old son has spent the day in pre-school. It’s been a long day at work, and Trish is ready to go home, put her feet up, and spend a little quality time with her kid. With the boy safely strapped into his child safety seat in the back of the car, Trish travels down the neighborhood road, lined with trees on either side, until she comes to a stop sign at the intersection.

At this intersection, there is a chain link fence surrounding a vacant lot. The fence has beautiful ivy growing all over it, making it difficult for drivers to see past the fence to the oncoming traffic. Trish inches up slowly, making sure that no one is coming from that direction, before she pulls into the intersection to cross to the other side of the street. At that moment, her son says something to her from the back seat, and she turns slightly to answer him.

At approximately 5:00 that same afternoon, *Marcus was saying goodbye to his buddies at the 9th Street Pool Hall, and climbed into his truck to head to his dad’s house. Under the seat, Marcus pulled out a half filled bottle of Everclear and took a swig before replacing the cap and putting the truck into drive.

Trish never saw the truck coming, and Marcus, who was more interested in the bottle of Everclear on the floorboard of the truck than he was on driving, never saw the little car – until the two collided, dragging the little car over 350 feet and pushing it right into a telephone pole.

When the police arrived, Marcus was found to have a blood alcohol level of .28. Trish never stood a chance of survival, having died on impact, while her young son was trapped inside the vehicle, physically unharmed, but having to watch his mother died.

If only this were a fiction story. No, this is a true story of something that happened one sunny afternoon in a small West Texas town.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2004, 16,694 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes. This is an average of one person nearly every half-hour. Trish was one of those people killed that year. She was not a nameless or faceless statistic. She accounts for one of the 16,694 people killed that year, and she was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend.

These crashes are not ‘accidents’. One of the American Heritage’s Dictionary definitions for the word accident includes: “An unforeseen incident.” Arguably, drunk driving crashes should not be unforeseen. Wrecks that result from drinking and then choosing to get behind the wheel of a vehicle are 100% preventable. Any reasonable person who has taken and passed the test to receive a driver’s license in their state should know that there is the potential to kill someone when they choose to drink and get behind the wheel of a vehicle. In many states, the district attornies have fought to have drunk driving cases where someone was killed or injured to be escalated on charges by something called a ‘deadly weapon finding’. Essentially, this means that the courts have upheld that a vehicle can indeed be weilded as a deadly weapon.

One should not get drunk and walk into a crowded shopping mall with a loaded gun and begin randomly shooting in the air because any reasonable person should know that this is dangerous and people could be killed. Driving while drunk is no less dangerous.

It’s simple: “If you drink, don’t drive. If you’re driving, don’t drink.”

Yet, NHTSA statistics still show that two out of every five people will be involved in an alcohol related crash in their lifetime. Behind every number of those statistics is a face, a name, a loved one to someone. They have family, friends, and colleagues. The drunk driver is not only taking his or her life into their own hands, but those of every single person who happens to be on the road at the time they make the choice to drink and drive, as well as potentially devasting entire families.

In most states in America, the legal intoxication level is .08 BAC. However, what many do not realize is that there is also in most states a law that prohibits impaired driving of any sort, including drivers who are too tired to be on the road, taking prescription medication, or other impairments besides being intoxicated above the legal limit. If one decides to drink and drive, even if their BAC is below the legal limit, and they cause a wreck, the driver can still be arrested and charged with impaired driving.

Drinking is not against the law, assuming you are old enough to drink in the state in which you reside. Drunk driving activists are not saying that one should not drink if that is their choice to do so. However, making the choice to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking effectively takes the choice of safety out of the hands of anyone the drunk driver may come across on the road. The point here is not to talk anyone out of drinking, but simply to make it clear that drinking and driving do not mix.

Designate a driver, but remember, a designated driver is not the person who has had the last amount to drink that night. A designated driver is a person who, before anyone begins drinking, has decided and made the commitment not to drink any alcohol the entire evening and thus ensure the safety of the others by providing rides for everyone that night. If a designated driver is not available, choose not to drink or choose to stay at home and drink.

In the end, giving up one night of getting sloshed and driving yourself home from the bar is much less of an expense than the potential fall out of a DUI, DWI, or worse, killing someone on the road or yourself. The choice to drink is yours and yours alone, but no one has the right to make a decision for themselves that could affect the life and safety of another, when it is completely preventable.

For more information on drinking and driving statistics, including fatalities, injuries, and demographics, please visit the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

(*Names have been changed.)

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