Drunk Driving Essay, Research Paper
Drunk driving is considered a serious crime in every state. It is wrong, irresponsible and wastes many lives. People who abuse alcohol hurt everyone around them, endanger public safety, and create carnage on the nation s highways. There is nothing positive that can come out of drunk driving, so why do people do it? It is society s job to punish these menaces and try to take control of this out of control issue. America doesn t want to watch idly as hundreds of people are killed each day. We want to take a stand and let the world know that we may be the land of the free and the brave but there is nothing brave or free about driving drunk. What should be done about this problem is debatable and certainly open to discussion, but the first step is lowering the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level from .10 to .08. Many states have already done this and I commend them on this decision, but the government needs to mandate this to all the states. Some people oppose this decision and say that it is based on emotion, personal vendettas, and irrational, sound public policy, nor backed up by statistical data. ( DWI Dilema, Internet source) However, I disagree. We need to send the message that it is not acceptable, nor is it constitutional to drive under any influence of alcohol, weather it be .08 or .20.
Drunken driving was once treated much as car accidents a regrettable but unavoidable part of life on the roads. But a vocal grass-roots movement led my MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) persuaded much of the country, over two decades, to view it as a type of criminal negligence. Public patience with drunk drivers quickly grew thin as well-publicized death tolls mounted. ( Mishra, Internet source)
What exactly is drunk driving? This is a question that has yet to be answered. To determine the concentration of alcohol in the body at any given time, it is necessary to establish the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which measures the percentage of alcohol in the blood. When a person consumes more alcohol than his or her body can immediately eliminate, alcohol accumulates in the bloodstream and the BAC rises. (Henderson, 23) In Connecticut the BAC level is .08, this means that the blood alcohol level needed to be arrested for drunken driving has to be .08 or higher. One can also be convicted of drunk driving without the results of a blood alcohol test or if your blood alcohol test result is lower than the statutory amount. A conviction can be based on evidence that your breath, conduct, language, and motor movements showed that you were drunk and unable to drive safely. (Driving While Intoxicated, Internet source)
Alcohol s effects are progressively more noticeable as the blood alcohol concentration increases. At a BAC of .02 to .05 percent the effects are almost entirely pleasurable. The drinker feels relaxed and sociable. There may also be some modest impairment of reasoning or memory and general reduction in caution. A BAC of .05 to .07 produces a state of excitement. The drinker begins to suffer from what may be a slight but nonetheless noticeable impairment of balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing. Judgement and self-control are also effected. The driver s behavior is apt to become more aggressive. In general, the drinker feels stimulated and highly capable. In reality his or her ability to safely perform tasks such as driving that require quick reactions, concentration, and good judgement has been significantly reduced.
A drinker s ability to function deteriorates quickly at BACs of .08. to .15 percent, the drinker enters a state of confusion. At this stage, the level of impairment becomes obvious, if it is has not already. Speech becomes slurred; the drinker s sense of balance, vision, reaction time, and reasoning ability are distinctly and obviously impaired. With a BAC this high the drinker cannot safely perform tasks that require sound judgement or motor coordination. No one at this level of intoxication, should ever operate a motor vehicle. The difficulty of course is that someone who has reached this level of intoxication may refuse to believe his or her abilities are in any way impaired. Too often, the results of such misplaced confidence are tragic. BACs above .15 percent have a progressively severe and obvious effect. Starting at a BAC of approximately .15 percent, the brains alertness center begins to shut down. By the time the BAC reaches .30 percent, the drinker is in a stupor. He or she is almost certain to fall asleep or pass out. BACs above .30 percent are potentially life threatening. At a BAC somewhere between .30 and .40 percent, the drinker falls into a coma, which may or may not result in irreversible brain damage. A BAC above .40 percent almost invariably results in death, usually because of respiratory failure. A 1996 study showed that 2.6 million teenagers don t know that a person can die from an alcohol overdose. (Henderson, 26)
America has always been a country that likes to debate. Weather the issue be politics, taxes, or Bill Clinton, there are always people voicing their own opinions. Currently there has been a lot of talk about what the BAC level should be in order to declare someone drunk. Some people believe that the BAC level should be .10 while others think it should be lowered to .08.
Herein lies the problem for the police and courts. Under the old BAC standards, typically .15%, there was a strong correlation between what was accepted as drunk driving and the legal BAC threshold. Keep in mind that persons can and always could be arrested for drunk driving, virtually regardless of BAC levels, based on their driving performances. ( DWI: Are we going in the right direction?, Internet source)
The overwhelming number of alcohol-related accidents are attributed to drivers with high BACs. So why is so much political and organizational effort being invested in lowering legal BAC standards? Why are valuable and limited public resources being squandered on detecting, apprehending, trying, punishing, and treating persons who, by and large, are not creating highway safety problems? And, why are basic civil rights protections being disregarded when those persons responsible for DWI-related accidents are readily recognized and apprehensible using traditional and accepted law enforcement practices? ( NMA s views on DWI, Internet source)
Lowering the BAC level demonizes the large proportion of the population that occasionally drinks in moderation, then drives home carefully. All this does is to give the few chronic abusers who do the real harm plenty of cover, as enforcement will be diverted to the minimally risky drivers (much in the manner that low speed limits keep the troopers busy ticketing you for going 70, while someone driving 90 has the chance to slow down when he sees the trooper busy with you.) ( Drinking and driving vs. Drunk driving, Internet source)
For the most part alcohol caused traffic accidents involve drivers with fairly high blood alcohol contents, greater than .15%. Contrastingly, there is incessant pressure to lower legal BACs . The current campaign in most of the country is to drop the BAC to .08% (12 states have already done this). This is to be followed by further efforts to reduce the legal BAC to .05%. for some groups, the ultimate goal is .00%, not only for driving a motor vehicle, but as a standard for responsible conduct. The US government endorses this by increasing highway funding for those states that have .08% BAC limits.
( NMA s views on DWI, Internet source)
Other problems occur when intrusive enforcement measures must be implemented to identify drivers with low BACs. Roadblocks are the best example of a tactic used when there is no probable cause to stop an individual motorist. Roadblocks are not necessary to identify drivers with high BACs, nor do they deter problem drinkers. ( NMA s views on DWI, internet source)
Movements to reduce the legal intoxication level from .10 to .08 percent BAC or less will do nothing to get at the problem. The hardcore group will not be thwarted by this legislation. The hardcore group wakes up in the morning close to a .10 BAC and builds on it from there. Most drunk driver fatalities have BAC levels close to .20. If lawmakers reduce the level from .08, they are simply catching more of the wrong people, the people who are not the problem. DWI laws are like bicycle locks-they keep responsible people honest but they are useless against determined bicycle thieves. The hardcore irresponsible drunk driver in our society is not going to be easily controlled, particularly by the well-meaning but ineffective efforts of those who think our criminal justice community can solve the problem. The police should focus on the characteristics of this hardcore group instead of the population in general. People who conduct themselves in this manner can be spotted. ( DWI dilemma, Internet source)
The truth is that the war on drunk driving is far from being won, and statistics show this. In 1997, 21 percent of the young drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. Eight young people die a day in alcohol-related crashes, and 2,104 people ages 16-2- died in alcohol-related crashes in 1998. Approximately 240,000 to 360,000 of the nations 12 million current undergraduates will ultimately die from alcohol-related causes, more than the number that will get MA s and PhD s combined. While more than one-third of the college students surveyed claimed to have driven under the influence, only 1.7% said they were arrested. During a typical weekend, an average of one teenager dies each hour in a car crash. And, nearly fifty percent of those crashes involve alcohol. (MADD statistics, Internet source)
The war on drunk driving has reached a complacent plateau characterized by many indifferent government leaders, strained law enforcement efforts and a dangerous public perception that the fight against drunk driving has been won. ( Washington Post, Internet source) The truth is that the war is far from being won, it is just getting started. Lowering the BAC level to .08 is a good way to get America back in the game.
Many people argue that lowering the BAC level gets the wrong people. Yes, it is true that most people who are arrested for drunk driving do have very high BAC levels. But for that few people who are arrested for low BAC levels, hundreds of lives are saved.
College kids are known to go bar hopping from one bar to another and get drinks from each bar. When they leave from their first bar after a couple of drinks they may have a low BAC level of about .03. But then they get in their car and drive to the next bar, and get a couple of shots there. Then their BAC level may rise to .07, by the end of the night they may have a total BAC level of .15, and they drive home, fatally killing an innocent victim on the highway. If the legal BAC level for arresting someone had been .08, then these kids would have been arrested earlier, in the night, before they had a chance to go to their third of fourth bar. This would have saved at least one innocent person s life.
Another argument placed by people who want the BAC level to be kept at .10 is that by lowering it we will be catching more of the wrong people, the people who are not the problem. I find it hard to believe that by catching a person with a BAC level of .08 is the wrong person. This person is out on the road, driving unaware of the problems of driving so heavily intoxicated. There is no such thing as the wrong person when drunk driving is involved.
When roadblocks are set up to identify drivers with high BACs, this helps to deter problem drinkers. Some make the argument that this is a tactic used by the police when there is no probable cause to stop and individual motorist. True, there is no cause to stop anyone, but it helps to catch people who are threats. Why do people have to make such a big deal about being stopped for two minutes to be examined by the police? This is no invasion of privacy, they are merely trying to help out America by catching the problem drinkers. This tactic works, and is helpful. It catches drunk drivers and saves lives.
The people who are complaining about lowering the BAC level are the ones we need to watch out for. These are the people who like to drink at a party or social occasion, and then drive home. But by catching them now, we lower the possibility of them going to another party and getting drunk, and then driving home with a BAC level of .10. Once they are caught they will be too scared to drive home intoxicated again. Legislatures argue that by lowering the BAC now to .08, it will eventually be lowered all the way to .00. However, I have a hard time believing this. I don t believe that we should make it any lower than .08, and there are only a few people who think that we should. There are very few side effects that occur at BACs lower than that. By lowering the BAC now to .08 we won t have to lower it again because the drunk driving problem would be under control.
When someone is driving drunk they are not only putting themselves and others in danger, but they are also putting themselves at the mercy of the police. If the police have probable cause to believe that they are driving while intoxicated, there are many tests that the police can give to determine DWI.
If the police suspect that you are drunk, they can require you to take a Breathalyzer test. This measures your blood alcohol concentration by measuring the amount of alcohol exhaled in a breath. Refusal to take a test normally results in an automatic suspension of your license for a significant amount of time, as much as six months or a year. (Driving while intoxicated, internet source)
The Walk and Turn test must be performed on a hard, dry, level, non-slipping surface with sufficient room for the suspect to complete nine heel-to-toe steps. In order to properly administer this test it is important to understand what type of test it is. It is commonly referred to as a Divided Attention test because it divides the suspect s attention between mental and physical tasks. The physical tasks include balance and coordination while the mental tasks include comprehension of verbal instructions, processing of information and recall of memory. While a person may be able to perform one task they may not be able to perform the other if under the influence of alcohol. The suspect must take nine heel to toe steps, turn around and take nine heel to toe steps back. When the turn is performed, the suspect must keep the foot on the line, and turn by taking a series of small steps. One s arms must be kept at their sides while walking, watching his feet at all times, and counting his steps out loud. There are six scoring factors that determine if the suspect passed the test. If the suspect received two total points on this test, the officer is trained to use this as a probable cause to believe that the suspect is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and to make and arrest.
(Walk and Turn, Internet source)
Drunk driving is a serious offense and has serious consequences. Punishment for first time offenders includes suspension of driving privileges, points, and fines. Punishment for second time and subsequent offenses increases significantly and typically involves a period of imprisonment. (Penalties for operation while under the influence, Internet source)
After your arrest, the police will issue you with a summons to appear in court. You may be required to post a bond to be released. The police may also release you on a written promise to appear. Both will inform you of the date of your mandatory court appearance. Failing to appear in court may result in the State charging you with the crime of failure to appear. Even the lowest charge of failure to appear carries the potential penalty of 1 year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.
America is not putting a deaf ear to the war on drunk driving. It is far from over, but every step we take to get it under control, is a step toward drying it up. Lowering the BAC level is just the first step, we still have a long journey ahead of us. Connecticut has taken a stand and been one of the twelve states to lower their legal BAC level to .08. I truly agree with this decision, and hope that other states will follow our lead. Strict criminal prosecution of alcohol-impaired drivers is the most effective deterrent in reducing the menace of alcohol-impaired driving. (Henderson, 108) This battle isn t just between people who are old enough to drive as well as drink. Teenagers, much like my self, are taking action against drunk driving. In Hamden High School we have a very active club called S.A.D.D.(Students against Drunk Driving) This club makes young people aware of the dangers of driving even after drinking small amounts of alcohol. This is an issue that is not to be taken lightly, and it certainly isn t. I just hope that one day, this issue will be non-existent.