Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Standing on my Soapbox

It was the night before Thanksgiving and Andrew, Jess, and Tyler were all coming home from a high school hockey game. It was almost midnight when they stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn from red to green. Suddenly their car hurtled forward into the intersection from some strong force behind them, and then it was dark.

That strong force was a drunk driver going 70 miles an hour into the back of their vehicle. Tyler, who happened to be sitting in the back seat, was killed instantly from the crushing blow. Jess, who was sitting in the front passenger’s seat, went into a coma for a month and when she finally woke up she had to learn everything, including how to walk, all over again. Andrew was in the driver’s seat and was the only one to come out of the crash relatively unscathed, despite the countless visits to therapy that he still attends to this day.

In 2005, my friend Tyler was killed by a drunk driver. A drunk driver who was sentenced to 10 years in jail. A drunk driver who was 35 years old. Not some teenager.

Drinking and driving has been an issue for too long in the United States and admittedly, teens are often the culprits. According to AlcoholAlert.com, 40% of all fatal traffic crashes in the United States involve a teenager driving under the influence. But I can’t help but wonder about the rest; that 60%. I don’t understand why teens are always the ones targeted and blamed. I’m not saying they are not at fault, but aren’t we forgetting to educate and caution every other age group?

First off, let me take the time to say this: To drink and then operate a motor vehicle might as well be the same as carrying a gun cocked and loaded, hoping no one will run into you to set it off. You are knowingly endangering yourself and others on the road.

Second, to all the parents out there: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Teens are still contributors to drunk driving. If they develop good habits at a young age they will carry it on throughout their lives. As lame as it might sound: they are the future. Having open communication could save their lives.

For example, one of the conundrums teens face is whether or not they should drive home to make it in time for curfew, despite the fact that they had been drinking. My parents made it clear to me when I started driving that if I found myself in that situation, my ass better call them to pick me up—no questions asked.

And lastly, listen and support organizations that work to stop drunk driving. I know MADD might, at times, come off as “preachy,” especially to teens. But they have good intentions, I promise.

On their website, MADD explains that they are “dedicated to supporting state legislation that expands the use of current alcohol ignition interlock technology so that interlocks are mandatory for all convicted drunk drivers in all 50 states” They list an explanation for alcohol ignition interlock technology as follows:

• “An alcohol ignition interlock is a small, sophisticated device – about the size of a cell phone – which is installed into the starting circuit of a vehicle.
• A driver must blow into the device and the vehicle will not start if the driver has measurable alcohol (set to a predetermined level) in their system.
• If the driver does not have alcohol above the measurable level in their system, the vehicle will start normally.
• Interlocks may be set for “running retests,” which require a driver to provide breath tests at regular intervals, preventing drivers from asking a sober friend to start the car.
• If a driver fails a running retest, the vehicle’s horn will honk and/or the lights will flash to alert law enforcement – the vehicle will not stop. The interlock does not have the ability to stop the vehicle once it is running for safety reasons.”

It's a nice thought, but is it practical?

MADD also believes that “it’s highly conceivable that in 10 years cars will have alcohol sensors to stop drunk driving all together” because of the rapid development technology these days. For example, on the MADD website, the organization explains that they have “partnered with leaders in the traffic safety and auto industries to further explore the possibilities of eliminating drunk driving through four possible advanced vehicle technologies.” They list the four vehicle technologies as follows:
1. “Advanced breath testing – both individual testing and testing for alcohol in the vehicle
2. Using visible light to measure BAC through spectroscopy
3. Using non-invasive touch-based systems to measure BAC through the skin
4. Eye-movement measurement technology, including involuntary eye movements related to BAC and eye closure that can indicate drowsiness”

Okay I’ve said my piece. Now what’s yours?


  1. Dang that's really sad, I'm sorry about your friend. The story gives a really good personal side to the issue so that's good really draws the reader in, great opener. I don't think I've heard of the interlock system before but that's really nifty, but if it goes on everyone's car that seems like it'd be more a nuisance than anything especially for people that don't really drink. I understand it though, manufacturers don't know who drinks or not and people can lie about it. It would definitely cut down on drunk driving not to mention I don't think a sober friend will sit in the car with a drunk driver and keep breathing on the thing. At that point I'd be like I'm sober how about I drive? Breathing on it at intervals though isn't that distracting too can't that be dangerous as well? Good blog, didn't really relate it to your studies but for a topic like this I don't think it's necessary to do that. That's a lot of really good information though. With all the drunk driving ads aimed at teenagers I'd think the number would be more than 40% I'm shocked about that. They definitely need to advertise more to adults have more ads like the ones where people were being pulled over in their cars and the cars were full of alcohol. Those TV ads were the only ones I've seen really directed at adults...Good post though, really personal, very sad

  2. Thanks Chelsea! Yeah I think that some of the ideas that MADD has are a bit over the top and don't seem totally practical, but like I said they have good intentions. I can't believe the number either and keep looking to double check it. But when I think about it, even if it was the other way around I think I'd stick to my original thought: teens shouldn't always be the ones targeted.

  3. Megan - The personal touch made me cry. Too many people, especially teens, get hurt or lose their lives every day due to drunk driving. The ignition interlock device is a good idea...in theory. Not sure it would catch on for everyone. I agree with Chelsea, more ads directed at adults would be a good thing. Great post!

  4. I agree that MADD has a tendency to be off their collective rocker, but they almost always have their hearts in the right place.

    The fact the interlock system can't just turn off the vehicle relieved me. That was the first thought that popped into my head.

    I'm sorry you lost your friend. Nobody should have to experience losing someone that young, especially from something so thoughtless and wrong.

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