Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

09 December 2007

Drinking and Driving

If you don't want to be killed by a drunk driver, I've got a simple solution: DON'T DRIVE AFTER MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY OR SATURDAY NIGHT.

Why is nobody suggesting this? We are so afraid of any hint of "blame the victim" that we neglect to factor in our own personal responsibility for our actions. But let's get real. When do these drunk-driving accidents happen? On weekends, usually after midnight. Ergo, stay off the road at those times! Why is this not obvious?

Our local fishwrapper...sorry, "newspaper," the incredibly mediocre Pensacola News Journal has been on a rant lately about drinking and driving. Every week the paper is full of sad stories of people who've lost loved ones in drunk-driving accidents.

Today, they chronicle one family - a young couple and their seven-month old baby from north Alabama who were on their way to a beachfront condo in Perdido Key. They left their hometown late on Saturday evening "to let the baby sleep on the way" (what??). They were sitting at an intersection in the area of Pensacola we call "car city" when they were rear-ended by a drunk in a truck - a drunk who already had gotten two DUI's. The man and his wife were seriously injured; the baby subsequently died. The truck driver only suffered minor injuries.

A month or so ago, the PNJ did a big story on two young girls who were killed when the car they were riding in was rear-ended by another drunk - a boy in a Honda who was having "girlfriend problems" and who was waaaaaaaaay drunk and doing 90 or so on a four-lane divided highway east of Pensacola. In this case, the car he hit (the girls' car) was being driven by a guy friend of theirs who was going the speed limit, "more or less." The driver of this car was, the police say, stoned on weed although they declined to claim it was a factor in the accident (I disagree). One or both of the girls were ejected from their SUV which subsequently, as they do, rolled over them.

Tragic stories, to be sure. Unless you've been through it (and I dearly hope you have not), one can only imagine how their families and survivors would deal with such pain.

Now. Wait.

It's easy to point to the drunk drivers as being completely at fault in these two accidents. But there's more to it than that. Let us not overlook some of the details. In aviation, an accident is rarely the result of a single "causal factor." Usually it is a series of events that lead up to the accident. So too with these "drunk-driving" automobile accidents.

In the first accident, the driver from north Alabama was stopped at a red light. "Car city" has very little traffic at two a.m. Didn't the driver notice the headlights of the truck bearing down on them from the rear? When I'm at a red light, I'm watching for the green, sure, but I'm also watching to make sure that cars coming up to the light from behind me are going to stop. It was two in the morning. Was the driver of the car at the red light fatigued and sleepy? It would not be unreasonable to assume so, especially after he'd made a nearly five-hour drive.

In the second accident (the one with the girls), neither of them was wearing a seatbelt. Would they have died if they'd been properly secured and stayed inside the vehicle? We'll never know the answer to that. But it is an important question. What was the driver of the girls' SUV doing? Traffic was obviously not heavy on that highway at that time of night, or the boy in the Honda would not have been able to be going so fast for so long. And it's a flat, straight stretch of road with good sight-distances. Didn't the driver of the SUV see the headlights of the fast-approaching Honda in his rearview mirror? I don't know how you drive, but I'm always keeping track of what's ahead of and what's behind me. Especially at night. Especially on a weekend night.

There was a recent drunk-driving impact panel meeting at the University of West Florida. DUI offenders were required to attend. There were the usual speeches by family members of those killed in DUI accidents, as well as some gory movies of others.

A woman got up and gave a very heartfelt talk about her 20 year-old son who'd been killed by a drunk driver. Of course it happened late on a weekend night. The woman said her son had "just gotten off work" although we don't know where or when. Turns out that the boy was ejected from his vehicle and was killed when the drunk's car landed on top of him. Ahh, no seatbelt for the kid, evidently. Again.

Despite Florida's mandatory-seatbelt laws, we constantly see people being ejected from their own vehicles in "rollover" type of accidents. I'm constantly amazed at how many people I know who will drive along, unbelted and seemingly oblivious to the annoying bong-bong! of the warning chime. I'm, like, "OH, JUST PUT YOUR DAMN SEATBELT ON!"

(By the way, this kid, this 20 year-old, apparently unmarried kid already had one child, and another one that was born three months after his own death - meaning that he had his first child when he was only 18 or so. This has absolutely nothing to do with his accident, of course. But it says a lot to me about how we're "progressing" as a culture and society. It seems like having traditional families doesn't matter much anymore. In any newspaper article about a parent and child, more often than not they have different last names. I'm not convinced that this is a good direction we're going. To me, it points to the incessant and perhaps inevitable crumbling of our societal mores, just as we so cavalierly disregard "meaningless" laws like the ones requiring us to wear seatbelts, and our propensity to hold SOMEBODY responsible for everything...somebody else, that is.)

I know, you think I'm being unsympathetic and horribly cruel for even suggesting that people have some responsibility for their own lives...or deaths. But come on, we're adults. We've known for as long as there have been automobiles on the road that people are going to drink and drive them. This is not a new phenomenon. To plead ignorance and innocence is, I think, trying to weasel out of your duty as a citizen.

Let me put it this way. If you go out driving on a Friday or Saturday night, you damn well better be on the lookout for drunk drivers. You damn well better be super-vigilant and careful. You better check and double- and triple-check everything...in front, to the sides and behind you. And you better damn well wear your seatbelt. Every safety guru you talk to will tell you that your chances of surviving a wreck are immeasureably better if you stay inside the vehicle. You cannot do that if you don't wear your seatbelt.

Personally, I think that anyone who ventures out on the road on the weekend after midnight is just being careless - especially so if they bring their family along. Do I drive at those times? Only if I absolutely have to, and not if I can avoid it.

Admittedly, not everybody can. There are those whose jobs or personal situations require them to be on the road during the "death hours." These drivers must acknowledge the very real risk, assume that every other car out there is driven by a drunk, and take the necessary steps to avoid an accident. It's Defensive Driving taken to the highest possible level. It's what we pilots do all the time.

So now we get to the larger issue of the actual drinking and driving. Obviously it is wrong. And just as obviously, all the laws, t.v. ads, traffic checkpoints and legal penalties will not prevent it.

America is a car culture. I don't know about your town, but I live in the city of Pensacola and nothing is within walking distance of my house. That's just how our cities have evolved. So no matter how much we demonize drinking, society still condones drinking and driving. Don't believe me? Then why do we allow bars to have parking lots?

You want to stop drinking and driving? Mandate that bars cannot have parking lots. Oops, but what about restaurants that serve alcohol? Hmm. Oh, and what about stores that sell cold beer? What is the purpose of selling cold beer? Are people in that much of a hurry to get home and drink it? Or do they perhaps want to drink it on the way? No matter, you can always go to a liquor store and buy any kind of booze you want. As long as people are going to drink, they are going to drink and drive. And as long as people are going to drive, they're going to drink and drive.

In any event, our national committment to stopping drinking and driving is weak at best. If we were serious about it, we'd enact the kind of Draconian laws that some European countries have. Heh- and that will never happen as long as politicians and other powerful people get busted for DUI on their way home from parties and such.

So I say, just be smart - stay off the road when the drunks are out.

And wear your goddam seatbelt.


Redlefty said...

Never thought much about the responsibility of the sober people. Thanks.

R1 Tamer said...

I've scraped numerous deceased up from the blacktop over the years both DUI's and innocent victims. Can't say that I agree the issue is so clear cut here in the UK. These accidents happen at all times of the day so you could never avoid the arseholes.

In my two years in Florida I couldn't believe the difference our two nations hold in relation to drink-driving and speeding. Here in the UK Drink Driving is heavily frowned upon and serious as hell if you get caught. On the other hand our speed enforcement policy is way more relaxed. We regularly travel on our intertstates at 90 - 100 mph (in cars) with never a care of being caught for excess speed. What makes it worse I guess is we only have two lanes and they're tiny comared to yours.

Hal Johnson said...

Yep, drinking and driving is bad. But, what I call the "MADD" syndrome is just part of what I view as a larger problem in our society: instead of truly addressing the meat of a particular problem, we simply demonize those who we've identified as responsible for the problem. Doesn't matter if they're only part of the problem, if society identifies them as THE PROBLEM, all those folks who might share responsibility in the problem skate away scott-free. Do I think we should go easier on drunk drivers? In the case of repeat offenders, no. But people screw up, whether they've been drinking or not. In our society, we're more interested in hammering people we're mad at than people we should be afraid of. Yep, in our society we're fond of deflecting responsibility for our own actions or lack thereof, and demonizing others is one way we do that. People, unfortunately, demand to have issues presented in terms of black or white—they’re too effin’ lazy to look at shades of gray.

David said...

We MUST demonize someone so we have someone to SUE!!! It's the American Way.
Is coffee supposed to be hot or not? If I put it in my lap and scald myself is that my fault? NO! It's the other clowns fault. Duh!
DUI, DWI whatever, it's wrong but so is every other form of wreckless driving.
Put down the cell phone, do your 'sweeps' and be attentive to traffic around you, leave yourself an 'out' and wear yer goddamn seatbelt.
OH, and stay home on Amatuer Night!
I'll shut up now.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 90's a NYC radio shock jock, Howard Stern, had the then governor, George Pataki, on his show and insisted that daytime highway construction was distrupting the commute of the daily workforce (particularly Stern's) to and from work everyday in the metropolitan area, thus causing big monetary loss to businesses. Stern pointed out the advantages to night road constuction when traffic was at it's lightest. Pataki took him up on it and most heavy roadwork in the NYC area, and just beyond, is now done under lights at night.

I say bulk up the law enforcement on weekend nights, rather than wasting their time with weekday speeding tickets which cause the average joe traffic tie-ups, because everybody slows down when they see the cop's lights flashing, and it causes all kinds of delays for a friggin' speeding ticket.

Like the road construction crews, bulk up the cops at night, particularly weekend nights and let them go for the GOLD in traffic arrests...DWI!

Just my 2 cents.


Bob Barbanes said...

I hope I didn't give anyone the impression that I condone drinking and driving because I do not. But we must accept it for what it is- a reality...in fact, a continuing reality despite the efforts of law enforcement who admittedly cannot be expected to handle what is a societal behavior problem that even stricter legislation may not correct. So yeah, R1 and kman, I'm all for putting more cops on the street when we know the drunks will be out there, but that only addresses one symptom of the larger problem.

And I agree with you Hal, it's a mutifaceted problem with no simple or singular solution.

Yes, we need to take responsibility for our own lives and actions. One part of that is being smart enough to just not be out there after midnight on the weekend - with a hot cup of Mcdonalds coffee in your lap.