prom-night-drinking

Let’s ditch the suspense: the answer is no. Prom night might be a few weeks off, and perhaps you were thinking of having a heart-to-heart with your teen right before he or she heads off to the prom. You were going to issue a warning about prom night drinking, and especially, drinking and driving.

If you want to find out why you should be worrying about prom night drinking, ask a patrol cop. They’ll tell you stories about what they’ve encountered in the wee hours during prom season. Those stories include fights, date rape, alcohol poisoning, and, of course, drunk driving.

Why Teens Insist On Drinking

Many teens drink because it’s fun. It’s an adventure, a way of gaining status in a peer group. Prom night adds another factor: it’s a rite of passage. It’s something that happens only once, and it’s held as significant both by teens themselves, the school, and parents. The dance and parties afterwards are mirrors of adulthood, one of the first social experiences they have that resembles what goes on in the adult world. For many students, making the most of that rite of passage includes getting drunk.

Why Prom Night is Too Late

If your plan is to talk to your teen about prom night drinking at 6pm, before he or she takes off, dressed to the nines, remember this: your teen has been planning the night for a while. Somebody has been planning on scoring some booze, and someone has figured out a place go to drink away from the gaze of adults. With all that pre-arranged, a last-minute warning to abstain won’t hold much sway.

Now Is the Time

Talk now. If you need some topics, consider these:

  • It’s more than just drunk driving – being drunk is an invitation to various kinds of harm.
  • It’s not just “don’t drink and drive.” It’s “don’t drink and drive, don’t ever get into a vehicle driven by someone who’s been drinking, and do what you can to prevent that person from driving. If you can’t, call the police. This is non-negotiable.
  • Alcohol poisoning is a major hazard. You need to be emphatic that drinking competitions and beer bongs lead to the emergency room.
  • Even if they’re not the type to drink, they need to be wary of spiked punch bowls and drinks. Tell them if they leave their drink somewhere, to get a fresh one.
  • Let them know you are available to drive them, or will call a taxi for them, no questions asked.
  • If you’re still stuck for what to say, there’s a lot of information online to help you.

Even if your teen gets what you’re saying, chances are someone in his or her group is making plans that could put some kids in danger. The better – and sooner – you can connect with your teens the more likely they’ll make the right decisions on prom night.

alcohol-bad-judgment

It started when Vicki Susan Poitinger hit a car with her Camaro and kept driving. That was bad decision number 2 in a string of bad decisions. What was number 1? It will be obvious.

She threw a can of Mikes Harder Lemonade (8 percent alcohol by volume) into a neighbor’s yard and asked the neighbors to hide the can. Bad decision number 3.

When the neighbors refused to hide the can (good decision), Poitinger hid it under the neighbor’s porch. You guessed it – bad decision number 4.

It keeps going, A police officer gave her a breathalyzer and she put her mouth on it but didn’t blow. BD5.

She refused a breathalyzer test at the jail. Different attorneys might have different ideas on this point, so we’ll give it a pass. At any rate, the point is already made.

Bad decision number 1, of course, was drinking and driving. It’s the decision that set the other bad decisions in motion. And judging by the offender’s claim that she had previous DWI convictions, it’s one that she’s made before.

When Alcohol Takes the Wheel

Some people just seem to be good at making bad decisions. Alcohol, it must be said, makes people better at it, by removing inhibitions and making people care less about the consequences of what they do.

What will be the consequences? Multiple DWI offenders in North Carolina are required to use an ignition interlock, as are all people arrested for drunk driving who refuse a breath test. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The interlock will not improve a person’s judgement, alas.No technology exists to do that. The device will, however, prevent a person from acting on the foolish desire to drink and drive, by incapacitating the starter motor while there is alcohol on the offender’s breath.

And while that won’t change a personality, it will protect society from one drunk driver and possibly aid in that person’s recovery, if she wishes to pursue that.

North Carolina’s ignition interlock law, then, was a good decision, one that the state’s residents benefit from each day. A stronger one – one that applied to all offenders and not just repeat drunk drivers – would be a better one. Let’s hope the state doesn’t put off that decision much longer.

backing-into-a-police-car

You normally would not consider backing into a police car as beneficial to you or society at large. Especially if the police officer whose car it is watches you do it. But it was a fairly good outcome for one man in Morganton, NC.

To understand why, you need to understand the situation. Not long after midnight a while back a member of the Morganton Department of Public Safety (that means she’s a cop) hunted down a gray Honda that had been driving erratically and found it stopped in the middle of the road.

The driver, one Rodney Allen Carter, had the radio on loud. When Officer Kania approached, he began doing weird things: turning the headlights off and on, mumbling, staring at the window buttons. The odor of alcohol was present.

The officer noted that the car wasn’t in park – the driver just had his foot on the brake. When asked to put it in park, he reversed it instead and hit the police car.

Carter tested at .25, more than three times the legal limit for intoxication. That meant he was not in any condition to drive a car.

It Could Have Been Worse

In fact, the driver was a menace who could have easily killed himself or someone else, judging by the fact that he couldn’t even operate a gearshift properly. Backing into the police car was good because it ended the incident with no injury.

What if the officer had been behind the car? What if, instead of backing into the car, he had sped forward and hit someone?

As it was, no one was hurt. The toll of North Carolina alcohol-related road deaths – currently 389 per year or about 28 percent of all road deaths – did not change as a result of anything going on in Morganton.

We all know that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Sometimes the bad is the enemy of the truly disastrous. So we welcome a DWI crash that might have prevented a DWI death. Though a better idea would be no DWIs at all.

Man blows into car breathalyzer A body that advises legislators on child safety has recommended that all North Carolina drunk drivers be required to use ignition interlocks. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Currently, repeat DUI offenders, and first offenders whose alcohol level is .15 or above, are required to use interlock devices. The Child Fatality Task Force voted to support a bill mandating the devices for all offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more.

North Carolina is playing catch-up in this regard. Currently, 30 states have all-offender ignition interlock laws, and several states have similar bills moving through their legislatures.

About 400 North Carolinians die each year as a result of an alcohol-related road crash. Ignition interlocks are known to reduce the number of DUI deaths, because repeat offenders are kept from starting their vehicle. As a result, many intoxicated people are kept off the roads. In a recent report Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) noted that ignition interlocks have prevented well over 2 million incidences of drunk driving.

The Evidence Mounts

There is more evidence that the devices work – evidence that backs the Child Fatality Task Force’s conclusion.

Month by month, the evidence mounts, and experts weigh in. It’s hard to avoid their conclusion: all states – North Carolina included – should be saving more lives by requiring all drunk drivers to use ignition interlock devices.

If you’re in North Carolina, now is a great time to contact your legislators and add your voice the others who are demanding safer roads in the state.

wedding-day-dui

It’s up there with the worst wedding memories ever, probably. A woman in Marana, Arizona caused a three-car crash not long ago. She was arrested and tested for impairment. That in itself wouldn’t be big news, even in Arizona, which is fairly sane in the drunk driving world. But the woman was wearing a wedding dress, and was on her way to her wedding when the crash occurred.

There could have been all kinds of reasons for a wedding day DUI. She might have been drinking that day. Or she might have had a very big celebration the previous night and was still impaired.

But why did she get behind the wheel? Perhaps she was in such a good mood that she didn’t think anything bad could happen.

No Day, However Special, Is OK to Drive Drunk

In some ways, every DUI incident is a result of this kind of magical thinking. We’ve had too many drinks, and decide to drive. We won’t crash, because we can handle it. We’re not that drunk. We know the roads. We’ll be careful. Arrests and crashes happen on the news, not to me.

Magical thinking is comforting, but it doesn’t work. Of the 30,000 or so fatal alcohol-related crashes that occur each year, and the many more alcohol-related crashes that don’t result in death, all of them involved drivers who thought they were okay to drive. Even if they knew they were drunk, they thought they’d find their way home.

We weren’t told if the driver in this case made it to the church. If she did, then her wedding anniversary will also be the anniversary of her DUI. Not one for the memory book, perhaps.

st-patricks-day-ireland

St. Patrick’s Day is popular with Americans, even those who have not a drop if Irish in their blood. The day is an excuse to wear green, sip green beer, dig up some Sligo fiddle tunes and even nibble some corned beef and cabbage. It’s not the cabbage that causes trouble, though: it’s the beer. The holiday is infamous for drinking, and worse, drinking and driving.

This might be a good time to inform revelers that Ireland itself is not a hospitable place for drunk drivers. Unlike the US, with its comparatively high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08, Ireland prosecutes anyone with a level of .05 or more for impaired driving. The usual punishment is a 2-year driving ban and a fine of 1,500 Euros.

Americans sometimes see Ireland as a nation of enthusiastic drinkers, with their Guinness and their Irish whiskey. But getting hammered and driving is not a fitting tribute to the Irish. They know better – hence their strict laws – and you should too.

This St. Patrick’s Day, make a plan. Line up a designated driver beforehand, or leave the car keys at home and take a taxi to wherever you’re celebrating. And don’t let any of your friends drive drunk either.

This March 17th, do like the Irish and show your friends a good time. But leave the wheels at home.

wrong-way-driving-arizona

A while back we wrote about a bill going through the Arizona legislature designed to deal with the problem of wrong-way drivers. If passed, the law would make wrong-way driving an automatic felony, requiring a fine and traffic classes.

The bill has been passed by a Senate panel, and now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Are We Happy?

No one wants to see a car in the wrong lane, driving at them. It’s a uniquely scary experience, which no doubt accounts for the ease with which this bill is sailing through the legislature. But some voices are not as confident that the law will accomplish anything.

What Causes Wrong-Way Driving?

The reason: people are usually driving the wrong way because they’re drunk. So stronger measures against drunk driving would probably make more sense than legislating against one symptom of drunk driving, albeit a very dangerous one.

In 2012 the National Transportation and Safety Board published an analysis on the problem of wrong-way driving. Their findings:

  • 10 percent of wrong-way drivers in the study had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between .08 and .15 (.08 is the legal level of intoxication nationally)
  • 59 percent had a BAC at or above .15 – referred to as “super drunk” in some states
  • 9 percent of wrong-way drivers had had a DUI in the previous 3 years (contrasted with 3 percent of the control group)

Alcohol, then, is a large part of the wrong-way driving problem, and an increased penalty for wrong-way driving is not going to address it, simply because a person getting behind the wheel with a BAC of .15 does not know or care he or she is driving the wrong way until the arrest – or the collision.

Get At The Cause

A more sensible approach would be to better enforce drunk driving laws. Arizona already mandates ignition interlock for all DUI offenses, which is good. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The state should add to its interlock law compliance-based removal – ensuring that a person with an ignition interlock does not have it removed unless he or she can pass a set number of months with no failed tests. Any attempt to drive after drinking would result in a longer interlock term.

No one wants drivers to drive the wrong way. If legislators feel better passing a law against it, then fine. But they will need to keep an eye on the cause of wrong-way driving if they really want to save lives in Arizona.

phoenix-self-driving-cars

If you carpool, you place your trust in whoever is driving that day. Chances are you’ll get where you’re going, but you never know when the person whose turn it is to drive will show up tired, preoccupied – or drunk.

Self-driving cars will fix that. The ones Waymo are working on are already plying the roads of Phoenix. More important, the company says it will be ready to start a commercial service next year, offering self-driving vehicles for commuting and running errands.

Recently Waymo has been publicizing its 360° experience, which gives passengers a panoramic view of the road around the vehicle. The purpose of the feature is to make riders comfortable with the idea of being ferried around by a van with no driver – something that still feels creepy to most people.

But the more interesting bit of news is the fact that the company is about to put the autonomous vehicles in general service.

An End to Drunk Driving?

There’s little doubt that a self-driving vehicle is superior to a human. Even if the cars aren’t perfect – and no technology is at first – they will definitely be more reliable than humans at the task of driving. They devote 100 percent of their attention to the road, are never tired or drunk, and don’t have any wrong ideas about the rules of the road. They never get angry or impulsive.

Whether humans will accept autonomous cars is another story. Crashes with self-driving cars get a lot of press. Once a fatality occurs – and it will happen – the real controversy will begin. Proponents will point to statistics – the number of fatalities will be much lower in percentage terms – but statistics don’t always win the battle.

Take It Slow

Until Waymo’s self-driving cars are proven safe and put in service, we have other means of keeping drivers, passengers and pedestrians from harm. We have drunk driving laws, BAC limits, and ignition interlocks to prevent people from starting their vehicles when they have been drinking.

Perhaps they won’t be needed one day. That’s fine. But for now, let’s keep at the fight against drunk driving. The time when all cars are autonomous is a long way off. In the meantime, it’s up to plain old, low-tech humans to enforce ignition interlock laws and keep the roads safe.

north-carolina-dram-shop-law

Last September a Chevrolet driven by a man named Robert Kite flew off an elevated highway ramp onto the road about 300 feet below. Robert Kite, a father of six, was killed instantly. Since his blood alcohol level was 3 times the legal limit, the North Carolina ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Commission looked into the situation. It turned out he had ordered 17 shots of bourbon in the 4 hours before driving.

The bar where Kite did his drinking, the Wild Wing Café in Aynsley, had offered to pay a $1,000 fine. The ABC Commission rejected the settlement in light of the revelation that the bar had served Kite 17 shots.

The bar claims that Kite did not drink all 17 shots of Maker’s Mark bourbon – they were just on the bill together. But the ABC notes that no one else was drinking that brand of liquor.

North Carolina Dram Shop Laws

Dram shop law is the term used for laws which determine a commercial establishment’s liability when someone drinks and causes harm. North Carolina is among the US states which have a dram shop law. The law prohibits the saleIt states that it is unlawful to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person. North Carolina laws allow a bar to be held liable if it serves alcohol to a customer who is visibly intoxicated and who then injured or kills someone in a collision.

According to North Carolina dram shop laws, then, the onus is on the server This opens up another question: to what lengths should a server go to in order to ensure that a customer is not drunk?

The $1,000 settlement will not fly, so the ABC will try to negotiate another one with Wild Wing Café, and this one will involve a higher penalty. How high can and should that penalty go?

3-arizona-dui-charges-shirts

While a number of Arizona’s road safety laws could use some improvement, it’s well known that the state’s drunk driving laws are fine specimens that other states should imitate. One of the ways in which Arizona deals with the problem of impaired drivers is to put some thought into classification: not all drunk driving crimes are created equal.

Arizona police can charge you with one of 3 types of DUI, depending on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Standard DUI

If your BAC is at least .08 but below .15, you will face a standard DUI charge. This is a serious crime whose penalties include jail time and fines of around $1,500 for a first offense and more than twice that for a repeat offense. An ignition interlock is required for all DUIs in Arizona as well.

Extreme DUI

If you are arrested with a BAC of between .15 and .19 – a very serious level of impairment which makes the driver a lethal hazard on the road – you will be charged with Extreme DUI. In this case you could be imprisoned for a month and pay over $3,000 in fines plus other fees and costs – and that is only if it’s a first offense. In addition, you will have an ignition interlock for 18 months. If the extreme DUI is a repeat offense, expect to spend up to 6 months in jail and pay fines exceeding $3,700.

Super Extreme DUI

This charge is somewhat rare among US state laws. If you are arrested and your blood alcohol test reveals a concentration of above .20 – two and a half times the legal intoxication limit – you are in serious trouble. Jail time is 45 days, though home detention is a possibility after a few days. For repeat offenses, the jail sentence can be 6 months, with fines of about $4,600 plus other costs.

Screening for alcohol abuse problems and, if applicable, treatment is also a requirement for all of these offenses. For most of them, a community service requirement is also part of the package.

Why BAC?

There are a number of ways to judge the severity of a drunk driving offense. One is whether or not the driver caused property damage or injury. Another is whether a minor was put in danger. In fact, aggravating circumstances like those will have an effect on the sentencing as well.

But blood alcohol concentration is the primary gauge of DUI because the worse the impairment, the more likely that someone will come to harm. Statistics back that up, and Arizona is right to bump up penalties for high-BAC DUIs.

All drunk driving, however, is a crime, and enough people are killed and injured by people with a BAC in the low range that those offenses need to be taken seriously as well.

Over the ten years between 2007 and 2016, alcohol-related crashes in Arizona have gone from almost 8,000 per year to less than 5,000. Deaths have been lowered from 397 to 302, and injuries from 5,532 to 3,324. That’s a testament to Arizona’s determination to fight drunk driving with strong laws – including an all-offender ignition interlock law and extra penalties for extreme and super-extreme DUIs.

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