Drunks & the Highways

A funny thing happened on the way to the computer keyboard…no, not funny at all. Someone handed me the statistic for 2006 with respect to deaths caused on the highways by drunk drivers. There were 17,941 people killed by drunks last year, the highest annual total in the past 15 years. Another 500,000 were injured.

This means that the number of people killed on the roads by drunk drivers in just one year was five times greater than the number of Americans killed in the war on terror in almost six years. In the approximately eight years of combat in Vietnam, 7,250 Americans died per year, on average, some years worse than others. Well over twice that many were killed by drunk drivers in this country last year. This is madness.

There's a renewed clamor now to raise the taxes out of sight on tobacco products for the purpose of getting it out of the marketplace and out of society…simply make people choose between smoking/chewing and eating. Not even the dumbest liberal in Congress would say that cigarettes used by one person caused him to drive his car into another car and kill its occupants…or the occupants in his own car, often the case. And the propaganda about secondhand smoke is…well, just blowing smoke. The alcohol-loving tobacco-haters love to talk about people killed by secondhand smoke, knowing full well the emptiness of that argument, especially as compared to the real killer – alcohol.

It's time now to tax alcohol out of sight and allow people to choose between drinking – a certain cause of thousands of deaths – and eating. The abundance of new tax monies could be plowed back into the road-funds to make streets/bridges safer on the basis of maintenance. There's apparently no way to make them safer on the basis of stopping the drunk killer from getting into his vehicle and impacting society to an extent no one should be able to exercise. Laws seem to have little effect, so why not try a financial angle?

What's the difference between sending someone off to the Big House because of "drug-law" violations and sending everyone who kills while drunk? Killer-drunks are not "drug-abusers" necessarily…they're murderers. Indeed, alcohol is by far the most dangerous and widely used "drug" available. There should be no difference, and in some states or in some judicial districts the killers are sent to the penitentiary, but there's no consistency in the courts on this matter, and in some places driving under the influence is considered fairly normal.

A few years ago, two football players at the University of Kentucky and a friend of theirs got thoroughly looped after a ballgame, with the owner of the bar standing by. They started off to Somerset, Ky., a town about 75 miles away, but they didn't get there. When the pickup stopped crashing itself to pieces, two of the young men were dead or dying and the driver, probably the drunkest, was okay. He was sentenced to some years but was turned loose after 90 days on something called "shock probation." Later, while his friends were "moldering in their graves," he was off to the National Football League tryouts. That's how justice works in some places, and that's why laws are only as good as those charged with enforcing them.

Jail time should be mandatory for anyone convicted of driving under the influence, whether or not he tears up anything or hurts anyone. If they don't have the proper license, people are arrested for carrying concealed weapons. In the case of drunks, however and with or without the proper license, they drive cars, with the result being mostly just a fine. A drunk-driver is not using a concealed weapon; rather, he's using an obvious weapon. A second conviction should land him in jail for at least a year, notwithstanding all the clamor about job, family, and whatever else. Or, house arrest might be an option, and community service should be mandatory, like cleaning the bathrooms in public facilities.

The wink-and-a-nudge attitude toward drunks in cars…or drunks anywhere, since they're always a danger…must stop. They must be branded for what they are – insensitive people with brains inferior to those of an orangutan. The drinker slowly evolves himself from human to animal and should pay for that privilege. The starting place is in the tax department. Get alcohol out of the marketplace and out of society. Get the drunk in jail, where he belongs, not among the civilized. Make it too expensive to drink. Alcohol is one drug the absence of which will harm no one.

A Kentucky state legislator got drunk a few years ago, crossed the center-line in his car and killed a woman who just happened to be in the wrong place. The legislator died not long after (not from the wreck – he was okay – the drunk usually is) and there was a move to name a highway for him. The people rose up.