Nicole Burns

A New Day, A New Cure Thirty minutes is not any great length of time. It only takes 30 minutes to get a decent workout at the gym, watch your favorite sitcom, or do the evening dishes. In America , every 30 minutes one person dies as a result of drunk driving ( “Traffic safety Facts“, NCSA ). Think about it; that is an average of 48 people per day! Across the United States enough people die in DUI related crashes in one day to fill the seats in nearly two and a half elementary school classrooms. This is a serious problem that is plaguing the US with huge death tolls, which have continued to rise. In light of this fact, it is crucial to create nationwide regulations that work conjunctively with each state to effectively eliminate drunk driving. Driving while intoxicated is a reckless and irresponsible action, and an action that is completely preventable. Drunk driving is so deadly that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Vital Statistics Report (VNSR) in 2003 more people died as a result of drunk driving than from HIV. Although many states have established laws that attempt to curb these numbers, people continue to die at staggering rates. President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a conservative research and education center, Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. (Llewellyn H. Rockwell “Drunk Driving Should Be Legalized“ Opposing Viewpoints) argues that drunk driving should not be illegal. Rockwell claims that to punish a drunk driver is to penalize before an actual crime is committed. There are no facts to substantiate his claim. The purpose of penalizing a drunk driver is the prevention of further and more serious crimes, as is the point of many other punishable crimes. A perfect example of this would be if a man were to recklessly wave a loaded gun in the direction of a crowd of people. This man did not kill anyone, but he did endanger the lives of many innocent people, which is a crime. Consequently, this man would be punished to ensure the safety of the people. Studies done by NHTSA show that the majority of DUI fatalities are caused by first time offenders; therefore, the key to both cases is prevention. It is far better to seek prevention of a dangerous action than to mourn the death of a loved one. Rockwell continues his claims, stating that a person under the influence of alcohol actually drives better while intoxicated. It is his belief that a person who has been drinking is highly aware of his intoxicated state and as a result pays more attention to his driving. If this were actually the case, there would be far fewer, if any, alcohol related crashes. In reality, a person with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08 has delayed reaction time of up to 50% and consequently would be unable to avoid an accident even if he saw it coming. This has been proven by countless studies done by the NHTSA regarding the dangerous effects of driving while intoxicated. The U.S. Department Of Transportation states that in2003 (Jeanne Mejeur, “Still Driving Drunk” ) over 17,000 people nationwide were killed and more than 258,000 were injured as a result of drunk drivers. Despite the efforts of lawmakers, death tolls have been on the rise for the past three years. Sadly, drunk driving does not discriminate because more innocent people die than drunk drivers do. Passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists all fall prey to this treacherous act, representing nearly 59% of the deaths related to alcohol crashes. ( “Traffic safety Facts“, NCSA ) Tragically, in 2003, 21% of all children under the age of 14 who were killed in motor vehicle accidents were victims of drunk drivers. (“Traffic Safety facts 2003” NHTSA) While the total number of deaths per state varies considerably, several states have a markedly higher DUI related death rate than many other states. For example, Texas has the highest death toll numbering 1,709 people in 2003, while California is in a very close second with 1,626. That is an average of 4 to 5 people killed in each state every single day! Not trailing far behind is the state of Florida, accruing 1,274 deaths. (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “Crash*Stats“ )These numbers far exceed the death rates for the remaining 48 states. There is no other state that even comes close to these devastating numbers. The most puzzling aspect of these statistics is that each of the top three states is a participant of a program referred to as SE, or Special Emphasis. The states involved in the SE program put extra effort and funding into anti-drunk driving campaigns. The high increase in death tolls clearly show that state laws are not strict enough, nor are they being properly enforced. This is a combination that is proving to be deadly. In the state of New Jersey DUI is not even considered a crime, (Criminal Status of Drunk driving Laws NCSL, July 2003 ), yet 36% of the state’s auto related fatalities are associated with alcohol. The problem continues on. For example, a man in Georgia killed five innocent people while driving on a suspended license. It was later discovered his license had been revoked in three other states due to drunk driving. As a result, he moved to Georgia to start a new life. In California a man drove his pickup truck through the front doors of a preschool injuring a little girl and killing a 24-year-old preschool teacher. She was the single mother of two small children. The driver had three prior DUI convictions and had attended classes intended to prevent him from repeating this offense. He destroyed countless lives that day in a matter of seconds. It is in situations such as these that stricter and well enforced laws could have prevented the deaths of innocent people. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation have shown that 75% of repeat offenders were arrested while driving on a suspended license. It is plainly obvious that suspending a driver’s license is not the answer. If a national database was created that was interwoven between the court system and the DMV it would protect innocent people from deadly effects of drunk driving. Within the current system, there are many loopholes that enable drunk driving to continue. For instance, in order to effectively charge a person suspected of driving while intoxicated with a DUI, he must submit to a breathalyzer test, yet the offender has the legal right to refuse this test. Only a handful of states consider the refusal of a breathalyzer test to be a crime as serious as DUI. In most states, refusing a breathalyzer test results in the mere suspension of the individual’s driver’s license. This is not nearly as severe as the consequences for an actual DUI; therefore, opting to refuse the test is much more appealing to the offender. This poses many problems. First of all, the offender does not have to worry about a DUI on his record causing his insurance rates to rise, nor does he need to worry that a previous DUI will affect his sentencing should he receive yet another. Furthermore, the driver is physically free to continue to drive his vehicle on a suspended license. While it is possible for a driver to be arrested for drunk driving after forgoing a breathalyzer test, the arrest is not nearly as successful. When the driver fails the field sobriety test, he can be arrested, yet without the results of a breath test a jury is less likely to convict the offender. In cases such as these, many drunk drivers are either acquitted, or receive plea bargains and are charged with lesser crimes. In the worst cases, the charges are dropped altogether. In light of cases such as these, a few states have begun to work at ironing out the most common loop holes. In February of 1999 the Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, decided it was time to experiment with a more aggressive approach. In this new tactic, should a person be caught driving while under the influence, his car was confiscated. There was no leniency, even if this was a first offense. Not only did this method remove a deadly weapon from the roadways; it served as a costly deterrent to other drivers. The success of this program was revealed when the DUI’s in this city dropped by 18 percent and DUI arrests fell 24 percent in comparison to the previous year.( Rudolph Giuliani, “All Drunk Drivers Should Lose Their Cars” ) When New York implemented a severe and consistent punishment for this crime, fatalities began to decrease. The United States as a whole needs to follow New York’s lead. It is essential that a driver’s license is viewed as a privilege, not a right. Just as a felon’s right to bear arms is taken away for committing a crime, a drunk driver should lose the right to drive. When the nation joins together to put an end to this senseless act by enforcing strict and consistent laws, only then will we see a steady decline in the senseless deaths of our loved ones. In an effort to prevent this horrendous crime, a nationally united database must be put into action. Organizing a national database to register drunk drivers would ensure that the lives of others would not be at risk due to repeat offenders. This new program, with strict guidelines, would guarantee that moving from place to place would not allow the renewal of a offender’s driver’s license. Under the strategy of the new program, a first time offender would have his car impounded. Furthermore, an ignition lock must be installed, at the owner’s expense, before the car can be returned. A person convicted of a subsequent offense would not be allowed to own a vehicle. At the time of conviction, any vehicles owned by the offender would be confiscated and sold to fund the National Drunk Driving Database, NDD. The NDD will aide in consistent consequences as well as preventing repeat offenders from slipping through the legal cracks. Before a person is allowed to buy a car or receive/renew a driver’s license his name and social security number will be entered into the NDD. Should the name appear in the database as a drunk driver, the license, vehicle purchase or registration will be denied. This is a positive and effective technique to conquering this crime. Drunk driving is an increasing epidemic in the United States. It is time to stop this madness. According to the National Traffic Commission, an estimated 1 in 5 families will be affected by drunk driving at some point in their lives. The fatality statistics are not just numbers; they are mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, and friends. Each and every person was loved and cherished. They should not have died; it was not their time. Many of these victims would be standing here today if only for stricter laws and the use of common sense. It is time America took a stand against this ignorance and provided unyielding consequences for this inexcusable crime.