I Had Two or Three Drinks
Once again, we are reminded that alcohol is the number one drug of abuse in the United States and worldwide. We are also reminded of how poorly we deal with it. You probably read about Britt Reid, the son of the Chief's coach, Andy, who crashed into two parked cars two nights before the Super Bowl, injuring two small children, one critically as of this writing. He told the police, who smelled alcohol, that he had been drinking, two or three drinks, in addition to his presumably prescribed Adderall. Britt has a long history of alcohol-related offenses and has even been incarcerated. Why he continues to drink, and why we as a culture allow him to continue to drink and drive, is a mystery. The answer to the mystery lies in our very confused and confusing attitudes about alcohol, those who drink it and those who are troubled by drinking it.
Around 1980, there were approximately 50,000 alcohol-related fatalities on American roads. DWI laws were strict but, perhaps because they were so strict, they were erratically enforced. Claiborne Pell, senator from Rhode Island, had lost two staffers in one year to drunk drivers, one in RI and the other in DC. Along with others, he sponsored a bill that required States to have a uniform drunk driving law in order to receive federal highway funds. This prompted all of the states to adopt such laws which established blood alcohol levels and standardized penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI) and breathalyzer refusal. Initially, there was strong community support for these laws and a belief, even among offenders, that they would be enforced. As a result, for a while there was a fairly dramatic drop in driving while intoxicated offenses. Over time, defense attorneys found and exploited loopholes which began to erode the efficacy of the laws. In more recent times, the miraculous ability of trauma centers to save lives and the universality of airbags has reduced highway fatalities to twenty percent of what it was in 1980. The actual number of broken lives caused by drunk driving has increased and is epidemic.
For legal reasons, we define DWI in terms of blood alcohol levels (BAC). At one time, it was usually .10 and in later years reduced to .08. The assumption in law is that a person is able to drive safely if their BAC is under the legal limit. Quite an assumption. What if you're not a very safe driver to begin with, or you just had an argument with your spouse or were just fired or were up all night with the baby? What if you just smoked a joint or taken a Xanax or were texting your friend? Any of those probably change your ability to drive and especially to react well in a challenging situation. It takes between four and five drinks in an HOUR to reach .08 BAC.
Back in the late 70's, it was determined that half of the drivers on the roads in one state after midnight were intoxicated and that two thirds were intoxicated after 3:00am. It was also determined that your chance of being apprehended was one in two thousand. When a driver is pulled over for DWI, it is not the first time they had been driving under the influence of alcohol. And I guarantee you do not want to be a passenger in a car being driven by a driver who had consumed four or five drinks in the past hour.
Britt Reid should not be drinking and driving. Everyone knew that when he was a teenager. His lawyer will probably argue that it was the prescribed Adderall and not the alcohol, or at least not the alcohol alone, that caused impairment. And since the Adderall is medicine, he is not culpable. How any doctor in their right mind would prescribe a stimulant to Britt Reid, given his history, is the stuff of malpractice. We do not allow the cab driver or the truck driver or the commercial pilot to drink and drive/fly. Not .08, not .04 not even .02. Are private cars or trucks less lethal than commercial ones? I am not a teetotaler but I wouldn't mind one bit if the law read: If you drink at all, you don't drive. Would you?