It was Friday evening, Sept. 19. My 16-year-old granddaughter, three
other teenagers, and a father of one of the youths were on their way
to a church retreat for young people.
Suddenly, a speeding car smashed into their vehicle. My
granddaughter escaped with severe bruises and scrapes, but the girl
sitting next to her was killed. One other teenager had to have his
right foot amputated, and his pelvis was crushed.
The driver of the other car was drunk. His blood alcohol was 0.24%
-- three times the legal limit -- and he was going the wrong way on a
freeway. He was killed, along with one of his passengers. Three lives
lost, and others shattered.
This was not supposed to happen. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has
led a revolution in the way we view drunk driving, and their
successes over the last two decades have been phenomenal in reducing
the number of alcohol-related auto accidents. From their founding in
California in 1980 through 1994, MADD was instrumental in reducing
alcohol-related deaths to the lowest levels seen since the 1970s.
However, in 1995 the rates began to creep up. And unfortunately,
the numbers are still startling. Last year, according to the National
Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 17,419 Americans died
in alcohol-related automobile accidents -- about one every 30
minutes. More appalling, these alcohol-related deaths are more than
40% of the total number of traffic fatalities in the nation. Forty
percent of all traffic deaths in this country are related to drunk
We can’t be complacent in thinking that what MADD started has been
finished. Maybe, without thinking about it, we have become too
tolerant of drunk drivers.
Next year, I intend to introduce legislation to further reduce
alcohol-related accidents, and I would like your help in deciding
what may be the best approach. According to a well-researched report
from the DMV last year, we know that increased jail time and fines do
not deter most drunk drivers. However, the DMV report suggests a
number of potential solutions that do appear to work, and which I
would like to consider:
* Repeat offenders are clearly the most morally reprehensible.
Perhaps it is time to impound or confiscate the vehicles they
repetitively use as weapons. Someone convicted of a third
drunk-driving offense would lose not just their license, but also
their vehicle -- three strikes and your car’s out.
* California has had a complicated and confusing system of
requiring breath analyzers on the cars of drunk drivers. These
devices prevent the car from starting if the driver’s breath reveals
alcohol impairment. While there are several ways for drunk drivers to
foil the system, the technology is improving. Next year, a report on
our existing law is due, and we should look at that study to see if
this system can be made more workable.
* Maine has a law that uses a graduated system of permissible
blood alcohol levels. As with most states, for the general
population, the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08%. However, if
someone is convicted of drunk driving in Maine, that person’s legal
limit for the future is lower -- 0.05%. A study of this program over
a decade showed significant reductions in alcohol-related crashes
associated with the law.
These are a few of the options that have come to my attention, but
I would like to encourage everyone reading this to let me know your
thoughts, whether you support or oppose one of these ideas, or have
other promising proposals.
But legislation is only one way of approaching the problem.
Another is an increase in public awareness. What people know as
common sense -- drinking and driving is a crime, it is dangerous and
potentially deadly -- sometimes isn’t reflected in their actions.
While drinking alcohol will always be a socially acceptable
activity, driving while drunk must have no public tolerance
whatsoever. I want to help mobilize public opinion on this issue.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving should be joined by Fathers Against
Drunk Driving and Grandparents Against Drunk Driving and College
Fraternities and Sororities Against Drunk Driving and anyone else we
can imagine against drunk driving.
As a state and as individual citizens, we have to insist that
someone in the group be a designated driver. We can’t take “no” for
an answer when we insist that people just wait an hour or two before
getting into their car. We have to step in and give bartenders or
other servers our support when they refuse to let an intoxicated
patron head out to their car.
It is only when we mean what we say about drunk driving that
things will begin to change. When we refuse to allow an intoxicated
person to drive, we may be literally saving a life. There is much to
That precious girl and the others who lost their lives Sept. 19
cannot be brought back. But we can see to it that other lives are
spared. I enlist your support as we address this plague that
continues to take thousands of lives in California every year.
* STATE SEN. JACK SCOTT represents the 21st District, which
includes Burbank.. He can be reached at senator.scott @sen.ca.gov or
call his district office at (626) 683-0282.