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Seeking help in fight against drunk driving

JACK SCOTT

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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percent of all traffic deaths in this country are related to drunk

driving!

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

be done.

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.


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