Efforts Increase to Eliminate Underage DUI

Young Driver imageUnderage DUIs are on the rise. This prompted a recent study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). The study set out to assess teen understanding of drinking under the influence versus actual behaviors.

The survey uncovered a clear discrepancy between the what teens say and what they do. For instance, one in 10 teens surveyed about their driving behaviors responded that they never drive under the influence. At the same time they said they sometimes get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol. In addition, although 86 percent consider driving under the influence to either be extremely or very distracting, 68 percent admitted to driving after having more than three drinks. Also, 21 percent defined designated drivers as those who were “basically sober” and who, they believed, were not too impaired to drive.

Of all the teens surveyed, only 1 percent believed that driving under the influence of alcohol was acceptable. And yet 40 percent claim that alcohol has no impact on their driving. Some said it even helped.

This is a troubling finding. According to Stephen Gray Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD, “With teens reporting these lax definitions of what it means to be ‘under the influence,’ a zero tolerance approach is the only answer to prevent potential tragedy.” He advocates for parents and community to create an open dialog with teen drivers to ensure they understand the true stakes in these definitions.

Underage DUI Education in Action

Some schools are heeding the call for education and providing programs. In Elk Grove, California, the Laguna Creek High School was the site of a law court. This event provided teens a lesson on the consequences of drinking and driving. They witnessed an actual trial of a woman arrested for drunk driving on Super Bowl Sunday.

Hamilton High School near Chico held a similar DUI court as two defendants charged with DUIs faced real-life sentencing.  Students were clearly moved by the reality of the situation.

Still other schools use simulator programs to help students understand the physicality of alcohol impairment. The West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration (WVABCA) in partnership with State Farm and the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program created a DUI simulator. This allows students to experience difficult driving conditions under various blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. The DUI simulator has been to every high school in the state and even to numerous colleges and universities.  Over 20,000 students have participated.

San Jose has several DUI education programs including a “Crash Trailer.” This exhibit contains an automobile involved in a fatal traffic involving a drunk driver. It also provides a 2 day program called Every 15 Minutes involving a staged DUI fatal collision and mock funeral.

At Keyser High School in West Virginia, students witness a lifelike mock DUI accident staged by local first responders. The accident involves a set up involving two vehicles, one on its top, to illustrate the reality of potential dangers of drinking while driving. People portray the victims, replete with blood. The first responders even cut two of the victims out of the car.

Ford has created a new suit that simulates being drunk and can be used to train people, especially young drivers, how it feels before they try it in real life.

10 Facts About Women Drinkers

Women in club or disco drinking cocktailsWomen drinkers are on the rise. In fact, according to health surveys, more women are drinking now than at any time in recent history. In 2010, Gallup pollsters reported that nearly two-thirds of all American women drank regularly, a higher percentage than any other time in twenty-five years. Over the past 15 years, the number of women arrested for drunken driving has risen 30%, while male arrests have dropped nearly 0%.

Recent studies found the following:

  1. According to the Wine Institute, an industry trade group, women buy the lion’s share of the nearly 800 million gallons of wine sold in the U.S. annually—and they are its primary drinkers.
  2. Women absorb alcohol into the bloodstream faster and metabolize it slower than men.
  3. For women, drinking in moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day. (One drink is measured at 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.)
  4. The risk of breast cancer increases as alcohol use increases.
  5. The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
  6. 40% of alcoholic women attempted to commit suicide, compared to 8.8% of non-alcoholic women.
  7. 58.8% of women age 15-44 drank while pregnant.
  8. Girls who start dieting in sixth grade are more likely to engage in alcohol misuse later in life.
  9. Women with eating disorders, especially bulimia, have a greater incidence of alcohol abuse than in the general population.
  10. 40% of women committing violence were perceived by the victim as being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the crime.

MADD Urges More Support for DUI Victim Rights

Capital BuildingThis week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. While one might think that victims have sufficient rights in the US, the truth is that victims still have fewer rights than criminal offenders. The rights of the criminal offenders are protected by the U.S. Constitution. The rights of victims are not. Granted, victim rights laws today are better than they were. In the past, victims were typically denied access to basic information about their offenders’ court cases and even excluded from the judicial process altogether. They did not have to be notified of court proceedings or of the arrest or release of a defendant, they had no right to attend the trial or other proceedings, and they had no right to make a statement to the court at sentencing or at other hearings. In 1981, a group of advocates created the first National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This was to call attention to the victims and their surviving family members. President Reagan created a President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime to assess the situation. They reported a system that was focused on the offender and indifferent to the victim. As a result, in 1984, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) legislation was passed. This was to providing funding for support of victims and to help change the criminal justice system. The report also prompted each state to add victim’s rights language to its constitution. However, currently the US Constitution contains no Victims’ Rights language, whereas there are 23 fundamental rights for someone accused of a crime. Numerous organizations including the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) support such an amendment. A Victims’ Rights Amendment (VRA) was put forward in April of 2013. This amendment delineates rights such as notification of, guaranteed admission to, and the right to speak during the course of legal proceedings including pre-trial release, plea bargains, sentencing and parole. VRA also requires that courts consider victims’ safety when defendants are considered for conditional release. The VRA has raised many concerns. Advocates point to the need to bolster victims’ rights as current statutes are often not enforced. Opponents state that the amendment does not uphold the fundamental ideal of innocence until proven guilty and due process. Time will tell how legislators will craft this amendment and whether it will make it on the ballot in November.

Should Wisconsin DUI Penalties Be Stronger?

Police officer writing ticketWisconsin is the only U.S. state that does not consider a first-time DUI offense a crime. Other states require jail time, counseling, and even an in-car breathalyzer called an ignition interlock to start an offender’s vehicle. Wisconsin simply hands out a ticket.

Yet Wisconsin is infamous for its consumption of alcohol. They claim to be the number 1 binge drinkers in the country. They also have the highest percentage of drinkers per capita. Unfortunately, they also admit to having the most number of drivers under the influence on their roads.

In 2012, Wisconsin had 200 drunk driving fatalities; much higher than the national average. The Wisconsin legislature met just after St. Patrick’s Day to pass a bill clarify the current drunk driving penalties. They required penalties for those drunken drivers who injure someone. They also required prison time of at least three years for those offenders on their seventh, eighth, or ninth conviction.

Yet they did not expand or strengthen the law to address first time offenders or increase penalties for other repeat offenders. The topic is often debated. One concern is the cost of prosecuting. A state analysis concluded last year that making a third drunken-driving conviction a felony would add millions to court and correction costs.

Jim Ott, R-Mequon, has offered up numerous legislative bills to toughen penalties. “We continue to have so many outrageous crashes in Wisconsin,” Ott told The Associated Press in 2012. “Do we just sit back and say ‘we have to live with this’’ or are we going to try and do something?”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been lobbying to bring Wisconsin DUI penalties in line with most other states. Programs that require an ignition interlock device have proven successful in other states. In New Mexico, for instance, DUI fatalities have been reduced by 35% since the state has required that all DUI offenders use an interlock device.