Society is faced with many troubling issues on a daily basis. Some of these issues include the wars and conflicts which our friends and family are fighting overseas, the stock market recession, the adoption of President elect Barack Obama, bailing out the automotive industry, and gun laws and violence. One issue that fails to make the top headlines is impaired driving, but no one ever poses a question of why. If “nearly 97 percent of Americans view impaired driving as a threat to the community” then why isn’t more being done about it?
As one of the leading causes of fatalities on a yearly basis, upwards of 18,000 killed and over 250,000 injured, more should be done about it and M. A. D. D. would definitely agree. A few important points can be made on the issue that may lead to a decrease in the occurrences. First off, impaired driving is a serious crime. Secondly, if you drive impaired, you will go straight to jail. It take a community approach to save lives (Talking). Every year 1. 5 million people are arrested on account of impaired driving, but “only one arrest is made for every 772 occurrences of driving under the influence of alcohol”.
Finally, just remember that chances are that you will be caught (Fact). Unfortunately at some time in our lives we will be affected by drunk driving in some way. This can involve us knowing someone being prosecuted for driving under the influence or we could be the accused, perhaps there will be an accident involving you or someone close to you where the cause was substance abuse. As an eighteen year old individual I find it very frightening that I know of two such instances occurring within my lifetime, one of them involving myself.
A few weeks after obtaining my license I was driving on route 287 northbound around ten o’clock at night. Everything seemed fine as I had the cruise control set on my brand new Jeep Wrangler, until a nineteen year old drunk driver crossed the median and t-boned my car. It was as if I had never seen him coming because his headlights were off and my music masked the sound of the car traveling in my direction. I remember looking up after the events happened, there were flashing lights all around, my view of everything was fuzzy, I noticed blood and my hands and face.
I was treated for these injuries, ranging from a concussion to whiplash and being cut by glass shards, at a nearby hospital and released. Although I was not severely hurt I still think about this incident every time I step foot into my car. I also happen to know a person very close to me who was on the other side of the equation. My cousin Patrick had just turned twenty one and some of his friends took him out for his birthday to celebrate. They had a couple of alcoholic beverages at the local bar and then decided to go back to his house and continue the festivities.
Although he claimed to feel good enough to drive the short distance home, Pat would soon learn that legally he was not. Less than two blocks from his house he pulled up to a sobriety checkpoint and was one of the cars that was selected at random for interrogation. The breathalyzer test came back with a reading of . 13, more than one and a half times the legal limit. Pat spent the weekend in the local jail, spent thousands and fees and charges, and had his license suspended for seven months.
With that being said he acknowledges that this was not the worst part of the happenings. He now lives every day with the guilt of knowing what he has done because he is unable to go anywhere unless a friend or family member can give him a ride. But further more he has experienced some difficulties in finding a new employer with this offense on his record. In an attempt to cut down on the overwhelming amount of impaired drivers in the state of New Jersey random sobriety checkpoints have been set up at predetermined fixed locations.
Some may question the legality of such an operation but in 1990 the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints, in the case of Michigan vs. Spitz. The ruling stated that the “interest in reducing alcohol-related driving was sufficient to justify the brief intrusion… [also] if conducted properly, sobriety checkpoints do not constitute illegal search and seizure”. This involves the stopping of all vehicles or a “specific sequence of vehicles”. This operation may cause a large deterrence of impaired drivers for two reasons.
Drivers who are found to be impaired while passing through such a checkpoint will be arrested on the spot and will also deter many individual from participating in such risky and illegal acts because of their knowledge involving the checkpoints. However the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety has stated that “prevention and not arrest is the goal” (Sobriety Checkpoints). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has put together “Programs Across the United States That Aid Motorists in the Reporting of Impaired Drivers to Law Enforcement,” which is broken down by state.
In this operation, the caller is asked to answer a series of questions after calling in to report an incident. A State Police Dispatcher will answer the call and begin asking question regarding the vehicle information, license plate, current location of the vehicle or the direction that it is moving, and driver characteristics. Although there is not yet a dedicated patrol team for such incidents in the State of New Jersey, the calls will be dispatched state or local authorities depending on the location. Often times it is the inability of the driver to maintain proper lane positioning that prompts a call from another driver or bystander.
The calls are most commonly placed on weekdays during the rush hour time frame, but no statistics are held regarding how often a patrol car is actually dispatched, average time between call and stoppage of vehicle, or the percentage of calls resulting in arrest. This may be because New Jersey is one of a few states that does not track their calls; therefore making it very difficult to keep records on the outcomes of the calls. A staggering amount of calls are made regarding this topic; approximately 1,328 a week, 5,757 a month, and 69,081 a year (Table 7). Since the inception of M. A. D. D.
, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, hundreds of new driving laws have been passed nationwide. All states have adopted 21 as the legal drinking age. Many states have passed the “Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws, which allow the arresting officer to take the license of drivers who fail or refuse to take a breath test”. The national allowable BAC, Blood Alcohol Concentration, limit was lowered from . 10 to . 08 for all adults, 21 and older. In addition to that, Zero Tolerance laws have been passed in all states, which prohibit teenage drivers from having “any measureable amount of alcohol in their blood system”.
But there’s more. The penalties for drinking and driving have increased across the board, especially for repeat offenders, who have to serve mandatory jail time in many states. Simply stated, “society is trying to emphasize that drinking and driving is unacceptable and will not be tolerated” (Penalties). Now that we are aware that the authorities use a system referred to as BAC, Blood Alcohol Content or Blood Alcohol Concentration, it is somewhat important to know what it takes into consideration and what occurs at differing levels of impairment.
First and foremost it is defined as the “concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood…[it is] most commonly used as a metric of intoxication for legal” purposes. A measurement of how many beverages are consumed is a poor measure of BAC because of variations in weight, sex, and body fat content. However, it is widely accepted that one standard drink will send an average person’s BAC to 0. 02 – 0. 05%. Over time the levels would return to 0%, with an average “dissipation rate of 0. 015% per hour”. Drivers who may not be considered legally drunk, BAC above 0.
08%, may still have some forms of impairment. This can include but is not limited to alertness, judgment, coordination, and concentration. Their behavior may reflect this impairment as you may begin to notice talkativeness, relaxation, mild euphoria, and decreased inhibition. After exceeding the legal limit more forms of impairment become noticeable, such as reasoning, depth perception, peripheral vision, and reflexes. Such impairment would cause a noticeable difference in one’s driving ability as all of these resources are vital parts of being a safe driver (Blood).
Driving under the influence will be one the most costly experiences of anyone’s life. This is said for many reasons, but not just because of the fines, fees, and surcharges that will ensue; you must also consider the potential of jail time and community service. As my cousin has experienced it will also impact your future opportunities in the job market. In most scenarios the penalties that the judge hands out are predetermined by state laws, therefore hiring a lawyer in hopes of having a sentence reduced or reducing a charge simply adds on the to the monetary damages that one will face.
The “Habitual Violator laws” have been passed which call for felony penalties after thee DUI convictions. In addition to the felony charges the “offenders may lose many of their civil right – like being able to vote or own a weapon – as well as their driver’s license permanently or for many, many year” (Penalties). The first time that a person is caught in the act of operating a motor vehicle or boat while impaired they will be convicted of a DUI. They will lose their license for between three months and one year.
The convicted individual may also be subjected to thirty days in prison in addition to 12 to 48 hours of community service with the IDRC, Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. Fines and surcharges will total upwards of four thousand dollars. A secondary offender will lose their license for two years while serving forty eight hours to ninety days in prison. More community service involvement is required while the fines and surcharges soar above five thousand dollars. If someone happens to be convicted of the crime three times within ten years of the last offense they will lose their license for ten years and serve 180 days in prison.
Depending on the amount of community service done by the individual, it is possible for the sentence to be slightly reduced, but is said to be a rare occurrence. For this particular offense the fines will typically be above six thousand five hundred dollars. Therefore, in total a repeat offender could face upwards of fifteen thousand dollars in fines in surcharges, multiple years in prison, and over a decade without a license (DUI). I was introduced to a touching poem titled “Somebody Should Have Taught Him” during my senior year in high school.
My health teacher at the time thought that it would be very valuable because it was coming up to our prom weekend and the last thing she wanted to hear was that one of her beloved students was involved in an alcohol related tragedy. There are many moving parts of the poem that relate well to what a teenager may experience over many years of potentially underage drinking and substance abuse. A girl went to a birthday party but remembered hearing from her mom that she should not drink at all, so she followed the orders by having a Sprite.
“I felt proud of myself, the way you said I would, that I didn’t choose to drink and drive, though some friends said I should. ” The girl didn’t have a sip of alcohol and after the party ended she got into her car “sure to get home in one piece, never knowing what was coming, something I expected least. Now I’m lying on the pavement. I can hear the policeman say, ‘the kid that caused this wreck was drunk’”. In her final moments the girl questions the acts of the similarly aged male that even though he “had no idea…because he chose to drink and drive that I would have to die. So why do people do it, knowing that it ruins lives?
” It is very sad to realize that even though you may do the correct thing by avoiding alcohol when you know that you are going to have to drive before it leaves your bloodstream, you are constantly at danger of the other irresponsible drivers on the road. But maybe if everyone was better educated on the topic there would be fewer alcohol related accidents and fatalities on a yearly basis. Knowledge is the first step to stopping the problem and the girl acknowledges this fact by saying that if the boy’s mother and father had educated him that she may still be alive (Watkins).
It is said that you must “plan ahead or plan to get arrested”. The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety has stated that they are “committed to making our neighborhoods safer and will be working with criminal justice officials to remind everyone” of five key points. First off, “don’t risk it. If you plan to drive, don’t drink”. Simply stated and easy to follow, but many people are still inept because they either think that they are above the law or unaffected by the amount of alcohol that they have consumed. Secondly, “choose a sober designated driver before partying”.
It is also very important to pick a responsible and trustworthy person to be the designated driver because you do not want to hear that they were consuming alcohol while knowing what responsibilities lay ahead. Third, “take mass transit, a taxicab or ask a friend to drive you home if you didn’t plan in advance”. Next, “spend the night where the activity is being held”. Without any worries of you being impaired while driving home or having an irresponsible designated driver, this is probably the best route for all. Finally, “report impaired drivers to law enforcement” (Talking).
In conclusion, it is up to a combined effort from all who are involved to put an end to the horrifying acts of impaired driving. You may feel that you are not involved simply because you are not someone who would ever drink and drive. Therefore if you feel this way you should volunteer to be a designated driver or offer your services to a friend who may need counseling. Since most alcohol related incidents occur after dusk on weekends and holidays, you should be extra alert when driving at these times because you never know when something is going to happen, similar to what happened to myself less than two years ago.
Always be on the lookout for drunk drivers and be prepared to report them to an authority if you ever have the opportunity. By doing so you will make the world a better place and solve one of the most troubling social issues, while Americans placed “ahead of healthcare, poverty/hunger, racism and education”. Don’t drink and drive because if you do you will just become another statistic (Talking).
Courtney from Study Moose
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