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Drunken driving: at plague on all our houses.

Drunken Driving A plague on all our houses

In the past decade, statistics offer encouragement that the problem of drunken driving is on the decline. Arrests for drunken driving are down, as are single-car crashes after dark, good indicators that America's consciousness has been raised on the issue.

Strikingly, however, statistics show that those most likely to cause a fatal alcohol-related accident are the people who should know better - repeat offenders. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that people with a previous conviction for drunken driving are 4.6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those with no record.

That indicates there is much room for improvement in the way society handles those who abuse alcohol and take to the road.

In one recent case of note, a Massachusetts man was killed by a car speeding down the wrong side of the street. When the driver was stopped, he was found to be under the influence of alcohol. Examining his record, police found a string of alcohol-related offenses stretching back ten years. The driver had been convicted of drunken driving eight times, and convicted for 19 other serious motor vehicle offenses. He had been sentenced to perform community service, attend alcohol education programs and serve jail time. He had been incarcerated, and his license had been revoked. Despite this, he was on the road again - drunk.

Although this is a particularly egregious example of a repeat offender, it serves to illustrate the shortcomings and limitations of the courts.

Repeat offenders often slip through the cracks. If their accidents or arrests occur in different jurisdictions, judges are often unaware of the extent of the problem, and sentences are lighter than deserved.

Even when a repeat offender is on the dock, magistrates tend to exercise judicial restraint. Many people have been behind the wheel once or twice when they shouldn't have, and this reduces the magnitude of the offense in the eyes of many.

This kind of restraint, however compassionate, is almost certainly misguided. Repeat drunken driving offenders are in a category by themselves, and it is imperative that these unguided missiles are removed from American streets.

The overall decline in drunken driving is encouraging, however, and brewers' public service messages have played a part in raising public concern.

The industry is seeing the effects of this raised consciousness reflected in declining on-premise sales. Fewer consumers are comfortable about sitting in a bar for hours and then taking to the road. Despite the financial costs, however, the industry has remained on the right side of the issue - promoting responsible use.

In the coming years, American society will probably follow the lead of many European countries. Longer license suspensions, vehicle impoundment and lengthy jail sentences will become the norm for repeat offenders.

Unfortunately, a penalty that will serve as a complete deterrent has yet to be found. The Massachusetts example indicates that some offenders won't alter their behavior - no matter what the cost in community-service hours and jail time. As long as the courts remain ineffective at monitoring repeat offenders, this problem will continue.

In the interim, consumers must continue to police themselves, and brewers and wholesalers must continue to encourage individual responsibility. A society in which citizens take responsibility for their own actions is the best remedy to the problem of drunken driving.
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Title Annotation:Annual Transportation Report
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 18, 1991
Previous Article:Aber introduces Biomass Monitoring.
Next Article:Transportation update.

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