Drinking and Driving—What Can Be Done?
THE OCEANSIDE resort town of Southampton, New York, has declared war on drunk driving. What is part of the battle plan? The Designated Driver Program. How does it work? Under the program, when going out socially, individuals decide within their group who will be the driver for the evening. Many of the town’s bars and restaurants issue a “Designated Driver” button for those who are chosen.
Then what? Councilwoman Patricia Neumann, one of the promoters of the program, explained to Awake!: “The person wearing the button is entitled to free soft drinks for the evening on the premise that he or she will drive the others home.”
But that’s not all the town does. Councilwoman Neumann continues: “Every week, our local newspaper prints, in a rather prominent place, the name, age, and address of any person arrested for driving while intoxicated.” And the result? She adds: “Our roadblocks turned up fewer and fewer people who were driving while intoxicated. I think all three things together—the roadblocks, the printing of the names in the paper, and the Designated Driver Program—have helped.”
That is what one town has done. Of course, while such efforts may be effective in reducing the number of fatalities, they by no means completely eliminate the problem. Meanwhile, what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Several things.
Be Responsible About Drinking and Driving
A Bible proverb says: “Wine is a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) That recommends having a responsible attitude toward the use of alcoholic beverages, acting in such a way that you never have to feel sorry for what happened when you were drinking.
That is not to suggest that the Bible endorses prohibition. In no way does it condemn the moderate use of alcohol. (Psalm 104:15; 1 Timothy 3:2, 3, 8) But as the previous article showed, a person does not have to be staggering drunk before his or her ability to drive is impaired. So a Christian should be cautious about drinking before getting in the driver’s seat. Frankly, why take a chance by mixing drinking and driving at all?
Perhaps a lesson can be learned from counsel given to kings back in Bible times. Proverbs 31:4 states: “It is not for kings [when officiating] to drink wine or for high officials to say: ‘Where is intoxicating liquor?’” But why abstinence? The next verse Pr 31:5 explains: “That one may not drink and forget what is decreed and pervert the cause of any of the sons of affliction.” What does that suggest? That there may well be times when abstaining from alcohol is in order, especially when we engage in activities that have a direct bearing on the lives of others.—See also Leviticus 10:8, 9.
Consider, too, the Bible’s words at Romans 14:21: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” So, there may be occasions when a Christian should refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages out of consideration for the sensitive viewpoint of others. Would that not strongly suggest that the Christian should avoid mixing drinking and driving and thus show consideration, not simply for the viewpoint, but for the very lives of others?
Then there is the matter of setting an example for others, particularly youths. If you are a parent, you have special reason to beware. Before you caution your teenager about the dangers of drinking and driving, make sure your own actions support what you are saying. The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do philosophy usually doesn’t work with children. Often they pay more attention to what you do than to what you say.—Compare Proverbs 20:7.
When You’re the Host
Genuine hospitality involves much more than providing your guests with food and drink. When you invite others to your home, you have a responsibility to set the tone for the evening. You also have a moral responsibility for their safety.
In fact, some areas even have laws stating that those who serve alcoholic beverages to visibly intoxicated persons may be held liable if there’s an accident involving such persons. In recommending the enactment of such laws, the U.S. Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving noted: “These laws implicitly establish the necessity of placing responsibility on the part of the seller or server, whether they be commercial or individual hosts. [Such] laws also reinforce the principle that others have a responsibility to prevent intoxicated individuals from driving.”
Clearly, whether there’s a law against it or not, when you serve alcoholic beverages to guests in your home, you have a responsibility to see to it that things are kept under control.—Please see the accompanying box “Be a Responsible Host.”
What Governments Are Doing
As public concern over the dangers of drinking and driving increases, governments have stepped up their efforts to deal with the problem. Here’s what some are doing:
Raising the minimum drinking age: Does it really help? Consider what happened in the United States and Canada when the drinking age was lowered some years ago. Explains a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:* “In a study of various states and Canadian provinces that reduced the drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen, significant increases were shown in fatal crashes.” But, then, beginning in 1976, some of the places that had lowered the drinking age began to raise it. The result? The same report answers: “When states raise the drinking age, there is a corresponding decrease in fatal crashes among law-affected drivers.”
Passing tougher laws: In some areas, drinking drivers face stiff fines, increased license-suspension periods, and jail sentences for repeat offenses. Are such tougher laws the answer? Notes Alcohol Health and Research World: “In Britain, fatalities from traffic accidents decreased initially by 23 percent in response to the widely publicized Road Safety Act of 1967, which allowed police to require alcohol breath tests of drivers. Passage of similar legislation in Canada brought about an 8 percent reduction.”
But before long the results in both countries somewhat dissipated. Why? The report continues: “Because drivers whom publicity had convinced of a new higher risk of arrest learned from subsequent experience that the risk had not really increased much.” In other words, tougher laws are effective only if they are strictly enforced. As the Bible long ago put it: “When a sentence against a crime isn’t quickly carried out, men are encouraged to do wrong.”—Ecclesiastes 8:11, An American Translation by William F. Beck.
Clearly, there is no easy solution to the deadly problem of drinking and driving. Governments are trying to tackle it. But each person must do his part. Before ever mixing drinking and driving, stop and think. Think about your own life. Think about the lives of others traveling with you. And think about the pain felt by the loved ones of those whose lives were cut short by the drinking driver. As Shirley Ferrara said regarding her son Jeff: “Twenty-nine years old is awfully young to die. It really is.”
The report, “The Effect of Raising the Legal Minimum Drinking Age on Involvement in Fatal Crashes,” was published in the Journal of Legal Studies, volume XII (January 1983).
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Be a Responsible Host
If you serve alcoholic beverages to guests in your home, what can you do to keep things from getting out of hand? Here are a few suggestions:
● Don’t hesitate to suggest to a guest who will be driving that he should be careful about any drinking of alcoholic beverages
● Limit the amount of alcohol served
● Offer nonalcoholic beverages as well
● If possible, have some food or snacks available. Remember that food slows the absorption of alcohol
● Don’t push others to drink
● If someone has had too much to drink, then by all means don’t allow him or her to drive. Make some other arrangements for that one to get home safely
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How to Protect Yourself From the Drinking Driver
How can you protect yourself and your family from the driver who has had too much to drink? It helps if you wear a seat belt and keep a safe distance between you and other drivers. Also, be on the lookout for the drinking driver. Watch out for the driver who:
● Turns with wide radius
● Straddles center or lane marker
● Almost strikes another object or vehicle
● Weaves or swerves
● Drives on other than designated roadway
● Drives at slow speed (more than 10 MPH below limit)
● Stops without cause in traffic lane
● Follows too closely
● Brakes erratically
● Drives into opposing or crossing traffic
● Signals inconsistent with driving actions
● Responds slowly to traffic signals
● Turns abruptly or illegally
● Accelerates or decelerates rapidly
● Drives at night with headlights off
Based on The Visual Detection of Driving While Intoxicated, by Anacapa Sciences, Inc. Prepared for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C.
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In many areas, drinking drivers face stiff fines, license suspension, and jail sentences
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Why take a chance by mixing drinking and driving?