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When Are We Going to Take Drunken Driving Seriously?

Let's follow the European example and make drinking any amount and driving illegal!

Do me a favor. Go to your local Patch website and type “DUI” in the search field. Astonishing isn’t it?

But the irony is, because it’s the most often reported story, we don’t pay much attention until someone with a relatively high profile gets nabbed. Somehow, we’ve gotten to the point were the inevitability of drunken driving has become a given.

And I’m just as guilty as everyone else. It took the recent Patch news story on the Batavia girls high school softball coach who resigned as a result of a DUI charge to make me seriously start thinking about this persistent problem.

It brought back one my frequent conversations with former Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti, who made a very interesting point about our cultural mindset. He said, while most of us are quick to say things like, “It’s illegal to drink and drive,” it really isn’t.

The truth is, you’re well within your rights to have a few beers at a bar or enjoy a bottle of wine at a restaurant as long as you don’t cross that magic .08 blood alcohol level line.

Barsanti cogently noted, “The real problem is there’s a certain amount of drinking and driving people in this country are willing to tolerate. That’s the difference between the U.S. and Europe.”

So let’s take a closer look at exactly what .08 means.

Using my 180-pound frame as a point of reference, I would have to consume six 12-ounce beers, five 5-ounce glasses of wine, or five mixed drinks in a two-hour period on an empty stomach before I’d hit the legal limit.

Maybe I’m just a lightweight, but if I drank five Bloody Marys in two hours, I’d probably pass out. I’d certainly be in no condition to drive. And frankly, I wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel of a car after imbibing just half of the amounts I described.

And science backs me up.

For example, at the .05 BAC level, drivers start to suffer from lowered alertness as well as minor muscle control loss which includes the ability to quickly focus their eyes. A 20- to 29-year-old with a BAC of .05 is 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash.

Even at the .02 level, most drivers demonstrate a loss of judgment, a decline in visual function, and their multi-tasking capacity heads right out the window.

So Barsanti (now a judge) was dead on. Though we consistently make noise about getting tough on drunk drivers, it’s difficult to do that when our basic premise is you can go ahead and drive impaired—but only up to a point!

So what’s our reaction to all this? Not much!

While the police do their best to get these inebriated folks off the road, because the courts generally proceed as if driving is a right and not a privilege, it takes multiple DUIs before we’ll take someone’s license.

The DuPage and Kane County state’s attorneys are so frustrated by chronic DUI offenders who know how to play the aforementioned system, they’ve resorted to “No Refusal Weekends,” where motorists are randomly stopped at pre-announced check points.

First, any chronic drunken driver worth his margarita salt pays attention to the papers and, armed with the knowledge of exactly where the cops will be, avoids them.

And second, no matter what any judge tells you, it’s patently unconstitutional to pull someone over without probable cause. Despite some politicians best efforts, we’re still innocent until proven guilty.

Then MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) chimes in and, though their hearts are in the right place, their draconian breathlock focus on first-time offenders only makes matters worse when the repeat offender that’s the real problem.

Ironically, Barsanti also told me that, when folks do complain about No Refusal Weekends, they never cite the Constitution. They claim the state’s attorney is impinging up on their “right” to have a few cocktails with dinner.

So how do we change this prevailing mindset? Personally, I believe the key to that shift lies in Barsanti’s brief allusion to European DUI laws.

In Sweden, if you blow a .02 that will get you a DUI. That means just one beer on an empty stomach and you’re facing a fine that amounts to 10 percent of your annual income as well as a one-year license suspension.

If your BAC level is determined to be .10, it’s a minimum of six months in jail at hard labor, even for your first offense. Your license isn’t suspended – it’s permanently revoked. Get caught a second time, and you’re off to the pokey for two years.

And the statutes are very similar throughout the EEU.

Word to the wise! If you ever avail yourself of a European rental car, the local gendarmes specifically target those vehicles because they know most Americans have no clue about these DUI laws.

The bottom line is, though these statutes seem unduly harsh, they work, because the fact that, drinking any amount and driving is illegal, has been indelibly imprinted upon the average European’s mind.

Now, before you say this shift would doom restaurants and bars to extinction, please remember that we’re talking about a culture that allows their children to have a glass of wine with dinner. But as a Swedish friend told me, there’s always a designated driver who doesn’t touch a drop.

“They may have drunks sleeping in the parks in Stockholm,” she said, “but no one drinks and drives in Sweden.”

So with such an obvious solution staring us straight in the face, in light of that insistent Patch DUI coverage, I keep wondering when we’re going to start taking this problem seriously.

I say, let’s follow the European example and make it illegal to drink and drive.

Rline July 14, 2012 at 02:54 AM
First of all , how did this article get published with wrong information regarding the law? If you blow below .08 that's still a DUI. You get two tickets when you get arrested for drunk driving. One for driving under the influence and ANOTHER if you are over .08. This is a direct quote from the Rules of Road Illinois handbook page 46. " ...However, you can be convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) if your BAC is less than .08 percent and your driving ability is impaired." Drunk Driving is a SOCIETY problem. When people go out and have drinks instead of telling a friend, "give me your keys I'll call a cab" , they ask " Are you okay to drive?" That is the problem. Somehow in this culture drinking and driving is a joke. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone my age (mid twenties) laugh about times they've driven drunk. Look around, and you will notice how embedded drinking and driving is in society. Go to a sporting event, a bar, a restaurant and watch how many people drink alcohol then get behind the wheel. I can't tell you how many times I've been offered a drink even after saying "no, I'm driving" the reply is always , "Just have one".....Why does anyone NEED to drink anyways?!
Erik Bloecks July 15, 2012 at 08:22 PM
If we want to start to mirror the punishment that Europe has, perhaps we should also take a look at the drinking ages of those European Countries too. Something could be said fo their methods. We need to be harder on those that are wreckless when they drink but we also need to teach our young better ways about alcohol. Having the age at 21 needs to be rethought. Have all the reports of DUI from much olders drivers maks one think that we are doing something wrong.
T884 July 20, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Every time someone is killed by cell phone or texting distraction, I place the blame squarely at people like the author - Jeff Ward, YOU are to blame for those deaths. Why? because of people like him, lawmakers are endlessly one upping each other incrementally increasing the penalties for DUI while failing to make any laws about cell phone/texting/iPhone use AT ALL. Driving in traffic, you see 1/2 of all drivers glued to these things In 1980, MADD corrected an imballance of perception about alcohol and traffic safety. But today, it and zeolots like Jeff Ward CREATE an imballance of perception in alcohol vs device distraction, which causes people to DIE
No more taxes September 03, 2012 at 06:20 PM
agree with Jeff on this one, harsher penalties, loss of license, lose car or $10000 automatic fine first offense, find a way where lawyers can't get clients off, 2nd offense automatic time in jail and higher fine, also lose car driving in no matter who owns it., make it unbearable to get caught, have police follow repeat offenders near their house and spot check them
Rhonda Fuller September 22, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Isn't that "profiling"?

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