Friday, July 28, 2006

DRIVING DRUNK IN AMERICA


DUI mug shots of ABC's "Lost" actress Cynthia Watros and actor Nick Nolte

The headline was all too familiar, although the names change:

Mel Gibson arrested on suspicion of DUI

MALIBU, Calif. - Mel Gibson was arrested early Friday for suspicion of driving under the influence, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.

Gibson’s vehicle was speeding eastbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when officers stopped him at 2:36 a.m., Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.”

********

The list of those caught driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances includes those who sit in the highest offices in the land. Thirty year old George W. Bush pled guilty to DUI in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976. Long before he began shotgunning his hunting buddies, Vice President Dick Cheney was caught twice for DUI in Wyoming within an eight month period. American Pie actor Chris Klein blew a .20 after a California arrest (the legal limit is .08, and the presumption that you are sober ends at .04). ABC’s “Lost” television actresses Michelle Rodriguez, 27, and Cynthia Watros, 37, were both booked for DUI in Hawaii when police spotted their cars weaving on the Kalaniana'ole Highway one night. Nick Nolte’s mug shot from his DUI arrest is a classic.

Drinking used to be “cool”

Driving under the influence used to be a funny guy type story, as in “I was so drunk I couldn’t see straight, I don’t know how I ever made it home (chuckle, chuckle),” as his buddy claps him on the back and congratulates him on his good fortune. The past 30 or 40 years, it seems that America’s image of itself has been formed in part by one, long, faux happy, beer commercial. Drinking has been portrayed in movies, on television, and in commercials as fun, comedic, extremely cool, and sexy. Can you identify this famous line: “shaken, not stirred?” Or the cliched scene in Westerns where the dusty, tired cowboy steps up to the bar and utters one word: “whiskey!” Woe betide the tenderfoot who orders “sarsaparilla” (a carbonated soda sweetened with sassafrass).

“Responsible” Drinking and Designated Drivers


Every once in a while beer companies, most notably Coors, run commercials touting “responsible” drinking and designated drivers. In spite of the universal understanding about the dangers of driving drunk- and the penalties for being caught, which have increased in severity to the point that most second time offenders are spending time in jail and losing their licenses for a year- every night, and not just on weekends, there are hundreds of thousands of people driving their vehicles while over the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content. Most nights they make it home safe and don’t kill anybody. No one tries to stop them from pulling out their car keys and heading for their vehicles because their friends are either drunk themselves or afraid of offending them if they make an attempt to stop them.

The carnage from drunk drivers

If you’ve ever tried to stop a drunk person from driving, you will quickly find that you have a fight on your hands- verbal or physical, depending on the drunk. Because someone failed to stop a drunk driver with two previous DUI convictions from getting his keys into the ignition of his pickup truck, on June 28th on Ledo Road in Albany, Kelly Jean Caldwell and her husband Charles Caldwell were killed and a six year old in their car was seriously hurt. A 17-year-old passenger in the drunk driver’s pickup truck was also killed. As I write these words, it’s late on a Friday night, and I would bet my house that there are hundreds of drunk drivers on the road or about to hit the road after a night of hard drinking at local nightspots.

Madison Avenue certainly plays a part in this saga, and it’s not just beer commercials during baseball and football games. A magazine I’ve read since age 10, Sports Illustrated, regularly features beautiful women in full page ads curled around a bottle of vodka. My most recent issues of two popular sports magazines read by kids contain ads for Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Keystone beer. Not the kind of beverage most parents want their teenage sons fixating on.

They never show real life in those beer commercials. The actors and actresses are almost always handsome and beautiful, happy and friendly. In real life the tragedies never stop and never will so long as we continue to make it so easy for drivers to operate their vehicles after having a few belts. I’ve tried two vehicular homicide cases to juries in recent years and the lasting impression I came away with from each was that no matter whether the drivers were innocent or guilty (I won both cases, but I hope never to try another one), the victim’s fate remained unaltered by the jury’s verdict.

One DUI client used to come to my office every couple of years with a new charge. After his third case I told him not to bother retaining me anymore. He died a few years later- many years before he would have if he had been able to control his drinking. Statistics tell a story, but they lack the emotional impact of losing a son, daughter, wife or husband to a drunk driver. Drunk drivers annually kill the population of a small city- imagine a 9-11 attack killing 3,000 Americans every couple of months, year in and year out, and you get a sense of the devastation caused by drunk drivers.

Years ago, as a college student, I worked as a bartender, a job I had imagined (from television and the movies, naturally) was glamourous and fun. The trap and skeet shooting club I served in was located on a highway, which meant that every single driver to whom I served more than two or three drinks was leaving the club legally intoxicated. I finally quit the job in mid-summer and slept much better at night.

I don’t have anything against clubs and bars per se, even though I don’t drink alcohol, with the exception of an occasional glass of wine once a year on Passover. I met the woman I love at an historic Albany night spot, the P-2 Club, where she worked as a bartender at night to pay her college tuition. (She ended up graduating with highest honors from Darton and later Phi Beta Kappa from University of Georgia.) I was instantly smitten with her, as was every other male with a pulse who visited the club.

Ironically enough, she agreed to go out with me because I had an advantage over the other men who asked her out- I drank Sprite. She found that very attractive, and we married six months later.

2 Comments:

Blogger I HATE DRUNK DRIVERS said...

Thank you for writing this. It is so true. You can also add Peter Coors to your DUI list of people.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Maria Palma said...

It's sad that the penalties aren't more fierce when it comes to drunk driving - especially when a person kills somebody. America doesn't seem to take drunk driving as serious as it should...which is probably why people continue to do it.

12:42 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home