Column: Drunken driving remains a problem

Oct. 26, 2013 @ 01:33 AM

Did you know that nearly 16,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of an alcohol-related car accident? Or someone is injured every two minutes in an alcohol-related car accident? Or that you’re five times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related car accident in the evening? Or that over 40 percent of all car accidents are alcohol-related?

One would think after all of the hard work of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and the constant conversation about always having a designated driver, everyone would have the message. Obviously that’s not the case.

The statistic about someone being injured every two minutes hit very close to home two weeks ago. In a five-day period the News-Topic had a motor-route driver hit by a drunken driver in the early morning hours while he was delivering the newspaper; two days later one of our account executives and her husband were hit by a drunken driver while they were on their way to dinner; and two days after that a former employee was hit not once but twice in one day by drunken drivers.

All of these people were injured, but fortunately they survived. The injuries ranged from cuts, bumps and bruises to our account executive requiring surgery for a broken hip. She will endure months of painful rehabilitation before she returns to the News-Topic. They will all endure the stress of being injured and then trying to work with the other driver’s insurance company. Some may have to go to court if charges are pursued. They will miss time from their families and their jobs. They will incur extra expenses. And all of this because someone thought having a few drinks and getting behind the wheel of a car was a smart idea.

Hopefully all of the offenders had insurance, but we know that’s frequently not the case. And in many cases the drunken drivers are multiple or habitual offenders. Sadly our N.C. Senate decided not to enact any of three bills that the state House passed by by overwhelming, bipartisan majorities to reform drunken-driving laws. But possibly we will some action in the spring on a measure that would strengthen North Carolina's habitual offender law. Surprisingly, a habitual offender is now defined as someone who has been convicted four times within a 10-year period; any convictions more than 10 years old do not count. The House has proposed dropping the 10-year requirement and setting the number of convictions needed for habitual-offender status at three instead of four.

But even drivers convicted as habitual offenders may only land in jail for a year.

Aren’t we a great state? We’ll give them three or four chances to kill someone before they go to jail.

A car with a drunken driver is a loaded weapon. If someone had a handgun and injured people with it three or four times you’d better believe they’d being doing serious jail time after the first incident. I fail to see the difference.