“Automobiles are not ferocious….it is man who is to be feared.” (Robin B. Stoeckel, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Motor Vehicles)
Alcohol impairs driving related skills regardless of age of the driver or the time of the day it is consumed. Everyone seems to know this fact and no one disputes it either. Ironically however, drunk driving still happens to the most frequently committed crimes in United States. In fact several jurisdictions in the country now maintain a dedicated ‘DUI’ court for tackling crimes related to people driving-under-influence. (Hales, 2010, p. 388; Taylor and Oberman, 2006, p. 23) The number of fatal accidents caused due to drunk driving was 10, 228 in 2010 and over 1.4 million drivers were arrested nationally for DUI during the year. (CDC, 2012) The fatality figure was 15,827 in 1991. When population growth is added in the mix, organizations like the Century Council definitely have a point when they say that the death rates have been reduced drastically. (Century Council, n.d.) But the number of deaths due to drunk driving still accounts for one-third of the traffic-related deaths in United States. And the number of people arrested for drunk driving is still one percent of the over 112 million self-reported episodes of alcohol impaired driving. (CDC, 2012)
These figures clearly suggest people are not being serious about the problems that might happen when people drink and drive. Since awareness and agreement are not the issues here arguing about the facts would not help. The only measure that would have a significant effect on drunk driving is the possibility of getting harsher punishment. This paper presents arguments in favor of harsher punishments against drunk drivers.
Definition of Drunk Driving
Before presenting the case for harsher punishments against drunk driving, the term ‘drunk driving’ itself must be clearly defined. Technically speaking the term is a misnomer as legally there is a considerable difference between ‘drunk’ and driving while ‘intoxicated’ or ‘under influence’. The term ‘legally drunk’ refers to a considerably greater degree of inebriation than what is the legal limit considered safe to drive. (Taylor and Oberman, 2006, p. 27) The exact statuette differs from state to state but generally a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is considered to be the legal upper limit for driving. There has never been a major debate on this figure. In fact most of the defense given by drunk drivers is the accuracy of the testing devices and procedures used. (Lerner, 2011, p. 12) This clearly shows that people have an unambiguous understanding of right and wrong in terms of what constitutes drunk driving but many choose to deliberately flaunt the rules.
Case for the need for harsher punishments.
Tackle Young Drivers
In addition to the arrest and conviction statistics for drunk driving, a pertinent statistic is the number of people below 25 (specifically under the legal age of 21) falling under this category. The 2010 statistics showed that over one in three i.e. over 33% of drivers involved in fatal crashes were between 21 and 24 years of age, another one third were between 25 to 34 years of age, while a quarter were over 35. (CDU, 2012) A slightly older 2008 statistic showed that of the fifteen to twenty year olds involved in fatal crashes, 31% of the drivers had been drinking. (Mendralla and Grosshandler, 2011, p. 8) This clearly showed that younger people are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. They are also more subject to factors like peer pressure, experimentation and doing things in a dare. Nothing can really stop younger people from changing their attitudes overnight. What can be done is to develop prohibitive measures such as harsher punishments that would not only act as deterrent but would also force youngsters into the habit of safer driving as they get older. Statistics also support this argument as it has been observed that drivers involved in fatal crashes were 4 times more likely to have a prior conviction for DUI. (CDC, 2012)
Attitude of People towards drinking and driving
Lerner, in his book, cites an excellent example of the attitude of people towards drinking and driving. He gives the example of the now-infamous opinion piece by Phillip B. Linker in New York Times on June 3 1984, titled ‘Drinking and Driving Can Mix’. He mentioned that he had been drinking and driving for the 25 years he has had a license to drive and the same was the case for his friends. Since neither had been involved in accidents, he concluded that it was possible to drink and drive successfully. The public outcry against this article meant that New York Times published only the negative reactions to the opinion piece. (Lerner, 2011, p. 1) However, the numbers of people who seem to think that they ‘feel fine’ and are in full control of their faculties enough to drive are too many. Most people in US have heard some near and dear express this opinion. This means that people seem to consider themselves as a special category of people who can openly defy law because they feel that they are responsible – an anachronism of the worst sort in the civilized world. Again the only deterrent to this attitude can be the fear against getting harsh punishments and heavy fines, combined with tighter and more active policing.
The discussion combined with statistics has clearly shown that drunk driving is more of an attitude problem with people. Young people seem to think that they can ‘get away with it’ either as a dare or as a challenge, while older people think they ‘can handle alcohol very well’ and so the prescribed legal limit of alcohol does not apply to them. Both the attitudes demonstrate an open defiance against law. It is neither mental sickness (like drunkenness) nor a compulsion to do crime. Hence, means like counseling and awareness programs can only achieve so much. The only means that would control the attitude is the possibility of stricter policing and harsher punishments. Lerner’s citation of a phrase by Bonnie Steinbock accurately summarizes the viewpoint of this paper ‘It is not unreasonable to require people to undergo great inconvenience to avoid killing other people’ (Lerner, 2011, p. 13)
- CDC, Impaired Driving: Get the Facts, Centers fro Disease Control and Prevention, [Available Online] http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html, Accessed on March 22 2013
- Century Council, Drunk Driving Statistics, [Available Online] http://www.centurycouncil.org/drunk-driving/drunk-driving-statistics, Accessed on March 22 2013
- Hales, D., An Invitation to Health: Choosing to Change, (California: Cengage Learning, 2010)
Lerner, B.H., One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900, (Maryland, John Hopkins University Press, 2011)
- Mendralla, V., Grosshandler, J., Drinking and Driving, Now What?, (New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2011)
- Taylor, L., Oberman, S., Drunk Driving Defense, (6th edition, New York: Aspen Publishers Online, 2006)