It’s time for a federal law against drunk drivers |

It’s time for a federal law against drunk drivers

I feel that it is time for our federal government to get real about some other terrorists roaming our country – those who are driving drunk on our streets and highways.

Fact: In 2001 (year of the 9/11 attack), drunk-related traffic deaths came to 17,400, with approximately 250,000 injuries (those serious enough to be recorded). In comparison, the 9/11 attacks killed 3,030 and injured 2,337.

In the 20 years from 1982 to 2002, there were 427,993 drunk-related deaths out of 902,054 deaths on our highways and approximately 6,420,000 injuries (an average ratio of 15 injuries to one death). This equates to a 21-year average of 20,380 deaths and 305,000 injuries per year. (Statistics are from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Washington, D.C.).

From 1997 through 1999, deaths slowly declined to the mid-16,000 range, but since 1999 they have been on the increase to the present mid-17,000 level. Compare these figures with war fatalities in our last major conflicts. How many of your own relations have suffered or were killed by a drunk driver? I have two.

It is obvious that all of the admonitions, stiffer penalties, treating drunks like babies by offering to drive them home after drunken celebrations, and even dreaming that we can solve the problem by wishful thinking (Clinton in 1997 set a goal of “only” 11,000 deaths by 2005 ) have done very little toward getting rid of these terrorists.

Much as I hate seeing the feds involved in any endeavor regulating human behavior, it is time to solve the problem by enacting a federal law that would pre-empt state law and eliminate drunk drivers from our highways.

The law should be very simple: First offense – suspension of driver’s license for one year, plus appropriate fine. Second offense – jail from one to five years and surrender of vehicle. If a third offense were possible, permanent loss of car and license, and 10 years in jail.

This may sound severe to most of us, especially those of us who have at one time or another driven while intoxicated (including myself), but remember that these are terrorists the minute they get behind that wheel drunk! Convicted terrorists get much stiffer penalties.

I have thought of other partial solutions (humiliation, breath test device in order to start engine, etc.), but keep coming back to the fact that anyone starting a car when they are drunk automatically becomes a terrorist. A federal law of this magnitude might be unmanageable, so it might be used merely as a guide and enforced by withholding funds, such as is done by the feds in other areas.

I offer one more statistic as to why federal law can become a complete detriment to our society when used against us rather than for us: Prisons now hold 135,000 inmates convicted on felony marijuana charges, in spite of the fact that there was not one death attributed to marijuana use. This costs our society about $7 billion a year (BBC News, report, Dec. 22, 2002). Compare the deaths and costs that drunk drivers create.

Don Jones is a retired 79-year-old native Californian. He has lived in Nevada County for 16 years, writes letters to The Union fairly regularly (even travel and poetry). He is active in SYRCL, Big Brothers, YOUTHcando and backcountry exploration.

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