Monday, December 15, 2008

The Solution to Drunk Driving

On December 12, 1998 about 8:30 in the morning, I answered the phone in our home in New Orleans. It was my sister-in- law who informed me that a couple of hours before, her husband, my wife's brother Frank, got the green light and entered the intersection on Veteran's Highway from Houma Blvd. A drunken teenager, going an estimated seventy miles an hour on Veteran's Highway, ran the red light and smashed into Frank's car killing him instantly. For about a half mile around people came running out of their homes and businesses because, as they described it, it sounded like a bomb going off. Frank had his seat belt on but the crash was so severe, the entire seat was torn off at the floor and went through the back window of the car with Frank, who was already dead, still in it.

This boy had already been arrested for drunken driving but his father, a very wealthy and prominent attorney who had left the legal profession to become a surgeon pulled a number of strings and the boy got off with a legal slap on the wrist. The agony that my wife and sister-in-law went through for months was indescribable. The machinations of this man refusing to allow the courts to make this young adult stand up and accept his responsibility was simply awful. It became quite clear what was going on when we received a "rumor" that the judge in the case was up for re-election and this wealthy man had contributed "substantial amounts" to his political campaign. No hard evidence unfortunately but no doubt true.

On the day of the trial my wife and I were astounded to see the wife of the deceased, our sister-in-law, get up on the stand and say she didn't want this boy to go to jail. It became clear later on that the prominent wealthy man had bought her off with a monthly payment for her disabled son. I imagine the "legal" papers stated that the payment was in lieu of any lawsuit against the perpetrator trying to recover any monetary payment for the death of her husband.

To add insult to injury, The judge sentences the boy to two years "house" arrest, no driving except to school and a requirement to attend regular AA meetings. Within less than a year, without any notification of our family, this prominent wealthy man was back in court requesting a re-hearing because the boy was "doing so well".

On the day of re-hearing we got a call about 8:00 a.m. from the prosecuting attorney's office that there was going to be a re-hearing and there was a good possibility the judge might reduce the boy's sentence. So, we notified the newspaper and M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) about the possibility of a reduction in sentence. In the courtroom we passed a note to the prosecuting attorney asking him to notify the judge that a Times Picayune reporter and the M.A.D.D. rep were in the courtroom. Strangely enough, when the judge came back to the bench, he said that he could not find any reason to reduce the sentence. Can you guess why?

Now think for a minute. If we hadn't gotten that call from a caring prosecutor and hadn't been able to contact M.A.D.D. and the reporter for the Times-Picayune, that kid would have gotten off with less than a year for the murder of my wife's brother. Call it what you want under any other name, it was murder in my book.

And there is such a simple solution to this problem. Anyone convicted of drunk driving (D.U.I., D.W.I. and other acronyms) should be ordered by the court to install a "breathalyzer" in the steering wheel of any vehicle they intend to drive. The technology has been available for several years now. They should be forbidden to drive any vehicle that does not have this machine installed. The cost of the installation is about $400.00 and the convicted felon must pay for the installation. If the convicted felon is apprehended while driving a vehicle under the influence or having disabled the machine in his vehicle, he automatically goes to jail for a minimum of one year. And once convicted, the felon can never again buy or own or use a vehicle without the "breathalyzer" installed in the steering wheel

Over a period of a few months, before Katrina drove us out of our home in New Orleans, I contacted every member of the Louisiana legislature with absolutely no results except for ONE reply from a state congressman who said the plan was not economically feasible. What an insult!

A letter to Congressman Heath Schuler in North Carolina last July outlining the case for installation of the "breathalyzer" brought an amazing response: "...Thank you for contacting me about the high price of gasoline..." as if that had something to do with my brother-in-law getting killed by a drunk driver. Guess how he fared in our election choices! Letters to Senators Dole and Burr brought no results at all.

Talk, rules, laws, sobriety checkpoints and all of the other so-called "solutions" to reduce drunken driving have had very little effect on the fifteen thousand alcohol-related fatalities recorded in the U.S. in 2006. The same can be said for the reduction of about 275,000 people injured and/or disfigured yearly by drunk drivers, one-third of whom are children. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is recommending all of these things but refuse to address the issue when contacted.

Enforcing a "one-strike and you're out" law nationwide would soon have these devices installed in every automobile sold in our country and drunk driving would soon be reduced to almost nothing. If you are convicted of drunk driving, you will be forced to have this device installed in your vehicle and you will NEVER BE ABLE TO PURCHASE A VEHICLE AGAIN WITHOUT IT. If you can come up with anything simpler than that I sure would like to hear about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for the comment, it cheered me up. who would've thought my solace would come from a stranger. much thanks, merry Christmas ;D