The former head of the U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) argues that the real solution to drunk driving begins with personal responsibility. So he raises the question, drunken driving, predictable, but inevitable?
Drunken Driving — Predictable, but Inevitable?
by Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D.
Driving anywhere, anytime, under the influence of alcohol or drugs is dangerous to you, your family, other passengers and everyone else on the road. It does not matter if it is down the block or across the country; it is a risk you are taking for someone else. Drinking and driving has a lasting effect. Not getting caught reinforces the bad behavior and increases long-term risk to you and others. Getting arrested has a lasting effect on your job, your budget and your integrity. Being in a crash has long-term medical, even fatal, consequences.
Last year, thousands of people were killed in alcohol-related crashes. And injuries numbered hundreds of thousands. It is a staggering number of Americans killed and injured by a preventable condition. To put this in perspective, three of 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash sometime. It is predictable and therefore preventable. It is inevitable only if Americans refuse to reset the norms for the numbers of preventable deaths and injuries they will tolerate.
Changing this risk means changing public attitude about driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is not something Americans should tolerate with a wink and a nod. If we do not want to be subject to the risk, not only attitudes, but behavioral norms must change. If we choose to drink when we party, we must designate a driver beforehand who agrees to stay sober. When we host a party, we must make it easy for our guests not to drink alcohol. Moreover, we must give our support to law enforcement to keep us safe from irresponsible drinkers.
No matter how many laws are passed, the real solution to this public health crisis begins with personal responsibility — a commitment not to drive while impaired, and not to let our family members or friends drive that way. The slogan “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” is very true. If we are smart, we will reach an expectation that our “friends” will make provisions for their safe transportation before it gets to the point of having to take someone’s keys. But if you need to, please take keys, call a taxi, or offer a guest room or sofa. We have a responsibility for each other. The person you stop from driving protects your friends, their families and people you have never met.
Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., is former Director of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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