Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk

A couple weekends ago was deadly in Whitman County. The Daily News reported two people died in a car accident, near LaCrosse, where speed and alcohol were thought to be factors. So many times it is the same story and people are not learning. Drinking and driving tends to lead to death on our highways.

Anyone who has lived in Whitman County for any number of years probably remembers the case where three WSU students were killed in a drunk-driving wreck caused by Fred Russell. That was another situation where drinking and driving plus speed was a factor in a head-on wreck on the Pullman-Moscow highway.

Drunk driving wrecks are nothing new in Whitman County or the state of Washington. Radio and TV are airing advertisements reminding people the cops are stepping up patrols looking for drunk drivers, but this doesn’t stop people from drinking and driving.

Just a matter of hours before the car accident occurred this last weekend, I was in a conversation about drinking and driving with my best-friend. He takes a pretty hard-line stance on the issue. He would like to see the state make drinking and driving a felony. He also wants people charged with pre-meditated first-degree murder if they kill someone while drunk driving. His thoughts are people who get behind the wheel of a car after drinking know the risks and choose to do it anyway.

If there is to be a change in behavior the legal repercussions need to be more severe. How does one stop or drastically reduce such behavior? I would like to think that drunk driving is less prevalent than it was a decade ago. I believe the extra patrols around the state and the legislature taking a more firm stance on the issue is helping. But can more be done?

I don’t think there is any one simple answer. The state could make all driving under the influence a felony. I don't believe anyone would go to the extreme of sending drunk drivers to a firing squad as practiced in El Salvador. Sure, it would make a big reduction in the activity, but does that punishment fit the crime? Definitely not. Maybe a mandatory one-year sentence in jail? But again, I don’t like when the legislature takes away discretion from the courts. Every case is different and every person needs his day in court. As I have stated before in my columns zero-tolerance equals zero common-sense.

I find it hard to come up with any reason that it would make drunk driving permissible. However, that is why we have due process of the law. The crime of driving under the influence is a gross misdemeanor which would allow a jail sentence of up-to one-year in jail. Maybe the courts need hand out jail time like candy is handed out at Halloween.

One reason people still drink and drive is because they have done it in the past and got away with it. On more than one occasion I have overheard people claiming they drive better while drunk. After making such an asinine statement they include some flawed logic to back up their claim. Such as, when I am drunk I concentrate more on driving, therefore I am safer. That is flawed because reaction time is reduced. You may be concentrating more, but if you are slow to react, bad things will still happen. Challenging someone who believes he drives better while drunk might make him think twice.

The message that drinking and driving kills has gotten out. People understand that concept, but they don't believe it will happen to them. They think their trip down some back road will be as uneventful as it was every other time they chose to drink and drive.

A social change in peoples' attitude about drinking and driving might produce the best results. Social change starts with you. Friends don't let friends drive drunk.

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