When one thinks of death, one often thinks of an illness, such as cancer or stroke, where the victim is often not held entirely accountable for the tragedy. That is, often such illnesses are part of a family history that is passed on genetically from one generation to the next. A person may develop breast cancer at 25 even if they have not engaged in any risky behavior and actually took care of their heath. Unfortunately, one significant cause of death has a very human source that is both correctable and avoidable.
According to the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) website, 1,719 people in California died in 2005 from an alcohol related traffic accident (MADD ONLINE). Unlike hereditary diseases, deaths from drunk driving can easily be stopped through legislation, educating people as to the dangers of such behavior, and using new technologies to ensure that someone’s risky behavior won’t result in the death of an innocent person. Just as the government has decided how old a person must be to be considered “adult” or vote, laws have been passed regarding alcohol use and abuse.
The most famous legislation was Prohibition in the 1920s, when the government literally banned alcohol; of course, people found creative ways to get around the ban, because for many the need to drink was simply too strong. The laws enforcing Prohibition were repealed, but the government has still considered it necessary to regulate how alcohol is consumed and who can consume it. Today, a person must be 21 years or older to purchase alcohol, and many states have laws regarding when alcohol can be purchased.
Most importantly, there are restrictions on drinking alcohol and driving, because alcohol impairs a person’s senses, which ironically is the reason many people think that they are fully able to drive when they are well above the legal blood alcohol limit. According to Alcohol Alert, “There were 16,694 alcohol-related fatalities in 2004 – 39 percent of the total traffic fatalities for the year” (Alcohol Alert! ) Unfortunately, many people disregard the laws against driving while under the influence.
The most discouraging aspect may be that people who would normally never engage in unlawful actions become drunk and lose their ability to make good judgments. The stereotype of a drunk driver is often that of an older alcoholic who drives home from a bar. While that is a reality, there are many accidents caused by first-time offenders. People who are not used to consuming several drinks go out after work, for example, and lose perspective of how much they are drinking.
Holidays are even more dangerous, because a larger percentage of society attends some kind of social event, where alcohol is offered and encouraged. People feel even more relaxed about their behavior, and believe that the only way to relax and have “fun” is to drink alcohol. MADD specifically monitors holiday accidents and charts the percentage of alcohol-related incidents. In 2004, New Year’s Day was the highest, with 68. 9% of traffic fatalities related to alcohol, followed by Super Bowl Sunday with 63.
7% (MADD ONLINE). Although most television networks air public service announcements warning people about the particular increase in accidents, the statistics reveal that people either don’t believe they could be an offender or they think they could “get away with it” just once. Although organizations like MADD publicize information about the affects of alcohol and the responsibility everyone has to eliminate dangerous behavior, too often other people are hesitant to speak up and prevent the impaired person from driving.
When someone is drunk, they are unable to accurately evaluate whether or not they are fit to get behind the wheel of a car. It is often the responsibility of others, if they are in the presence of someone who needs an intervention, to act with authority and prevent both a crime and a potential accident. Although the concept of the “designated driver” is hardly new, far too few people actually practice it. More aggressive education might be effective to reach people who believe that such an accident could never happen to them.
One good example to consider is New York City’s recent anti-smoking commercials, which feature Ronaldo Martinez who got cancer of the larynx at only 39 from years of smoking. He has to use a mechanical voice box in order to tell his story about smoking, and at one point during the commercial, Martinez lifts the white bib around his throat to reveal a gaping hole in his throat. The ads have received a lot of attention, both from people calling to complain about the graphic and gory images and from smokers quitting in record numbers. Daily News writers Paul H. B.
Shin and Angie Wallace reported in June, 2006 that Sarah Perl, the assistant commissioner for tobacco control, confirmed that “’[the city Health Department] received nearly 15,000 calls for quit-smoking services – more than triple the amount received in the same time period in 2005’” (Shin and Wallace). Having an attractive actor or actress asking people not to drink and drive is less effective than having a person who has been disfigured or disabled from a drunk driving incident talking plainly to the camera about the lasting effects of someone’s irresponsible actions.
Unfortunately, I know first hand that one poor choice can result in a web of pain. My uncle was out to dinner with co-workers, and had enjoyed a few drinks, not unlike thousands do every evening across the country. My uncle made the choice to drive himself home, as many people in similar situations do. Unlike those who drink and drive and manage to get home safely, my uncle hit a sidewall as he was driving on the highway and died. He left behind a wife and child. Some might say that it was fortunate that my uncle didn’t cross into a lane and hit someone else and be responsible for multiple deaths.
His poor choice to drive only resulted on one physical death, but the effect of losing him has caused great pain for his wife and child. They may have not been in the car, but the accident injured them in long-lasting ways, because they will forever be without him. My uncle was ultimately responsible for the accident, but none of his co-works stepped forward to take his keys, call a cab or have a designated driver drive him home. If all of the people there were all drinking alcohol, this could have happened to any of them, and another family might have been devastated.
Perhaps if my uncle would have just seen a powerful commercial about the dangers of drinking and driving, or had read a tragic story just that day, he might have reconsidered his ability to drive that night. Perhaps someone at the restaurant would have acted to prevent illegal behavior and the tragedy waiting to happen. Improving communication of the dangers of driving while impaired is important, but it still is nearly impossible to assure that everyone will change their behaviors. Some people will still make poor choices because people are fallible.
To really prevent drunken driving, society needs to make a person’s free will the second-to-last step. New technologies are a great way to have a final, impartial decision-making device to stop people from turning their cars into weapons. Police use tools such as a Breathalyzer to measure a person’s blood alcohol content to make an official decision that is based on the hard facts of body chemistry: if cars were equipped with breath testers, intoxicated people wouldn’t be able to even become a danger to themselves and others.
In California and many other states, the legal definition of “drunk” or “under the influence” is . 08 or better, and many people say that having a blood alcohol content of . 08 doesn’t even feel “tipsy” (California DUI LAW). A person may be legally drunk and, not feeling drunk, has no concern about driving. Science and technology could be used here to judge the situation based on unbiased measurements rather than personal feelings, which cannot be perfectly judged. Part of what makes the issue of drunk driving even more tragic is that most people who drive after drinking are not setting out to hurt anyone.
They aren’t using a gun to rob a store, or committing a hate crime. My uncle didn’t make a choice to put lives in danger and end his own. In this situation, which is really all about perceptions being impaired, people need a stable and secure way to obey the law and protect lives. When laws are not enough, and many people continue to disregard the information presented to them, it’s time to take the decision out of their hands and rely on technology to prevent further tragedies.
Works Cited “Alcohol Alert! ” 9 February 2006. 8 December 2006 < http://www. alcoholalert. com/drunk-driving-statistics. html>. “California DUI LAW. ” 8 December 2006. 8 December 2006 < http://www. 1800duilaws. com/states/>. “MADD Online. ” 8 December 2006. 8 December 2006 <http://www. madd. org/>. Shin, Paul H. B. and Angie Wallace. “Cig shock therapy. ” New York Daily News. 14 June 2006. 8 December 2006 <http://www. nydailynews. com/front/story/426483p-359724c. html>.