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Tim Blagg

Tim Blagg: Drunken driving remedies

I wish I could believe that lowering the blood alchohol limit for drunken driving, as has been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, would cut the number of fatalities caused by impaired drivers.

I can’t.

I think that moving the number from 0.08 to 0.05 won’t do any harm, but I doubt it will have much effect.

I think there are other measures that would have a much greater impact.

Making it mandatory, for example, that drivers who have been convicted of OUI, especially more than once, drive only cars that have been equipped with devices that measure their ability to drive would probably help much more.

The sad fact is that most of those who are involved in fatal accidents while under the influence of alcohol in these days of designated drivers and liability suits for restaurants and bars are probably alcoholics. Federal statistics indicate that more than 70 percent of drunken driving fatalities involve drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent or more, and that the average level of a driver involved in a fatal crash is 0.16.

Chances are good that those drivers suffer from the disease known as alcoholism.

And threatening them with stricter laws simply isn’t going to work.

They are SICK. And their illness affects their perception of the world around them ... it distorts it and makes it very difficult for them to make rational decisions.

It’s very similar to mental illness in that respect.

Threats of future punishment just don’t work.

They DO work with those people who are capable of making decisions, and we’ve seen the effect of stiffer laws and the threat of suits on what we might call social drinkers.

Since Utah became the first state to adopt the 0.08 standard 30 years ago, the number of Americans killed in alcohol-related crashes has fallen by nearly half. Partiers routinely appoint someone sober to drive home, or arrange for alternate transportation.

It’s become the norm.

But nearly 10,000 Americans still die every year in accidents involving someone who has been drinking or who is under the influence of drugs.

To cut that number, as the NTSB wants to do, we have to stop alcoholics from driving — first by taking away their licenses and then only restoring them after competence devices have been fitted.

And we have to increase the number of beds for detox and sobriety programs and make sure our medical insurance pays for that treatment.

I don’t agree that Europe is a good model for us — their culture and their attitude toward drinking is different. And they have decent mass transportation networks in place.

Nothing I’ve seen makes me believe that too many drivers are skating by after being stopped because their blood alcohol level is just a little too low to qualify for OUI.

It’s much more likely that persistent offenders get off because of some legal loophole.

Their luck will eventually run out.

But what is really important is that we get serious about stopping the really sick drivers from getting behind the wheel.

That will save lives.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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