fallen heroes

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Drunken driving arrests tend not to make the headlines unless a celebrity is involved. This has been a banner few days. First there is Charles Barkley, former NBA star, television commentator and self proclaimed candidate for Alabama governorship. Phoenix Sun player, Jason Richardson, was cited for drunk driving just before Christmas. San Diego Charger wide receiver Vincent Jackson was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol within a day of his team winning a playoff game. And to finish the lineup, world ice dancing champion Maxim Staviski was sentenced to prison for drunk driving for killing one person and critically injuring another.

Alcohol and automobiles don’t mix. Regardless of how seasoned a drinker one might be, alcohol has reproducible effects with the first drink. While people continue to quote the “legal” limit for intoxication, there is no true number at which somebody is safe. 0.08 is often quoted for driving a car, but it’s half that for a commercial license and absolute sobriety is required to fly a plane. And most would concede that absolute sobriety would be required for your surgeon to cut on you.

Alcohol is a depressant drug which decreases the body’s ability to react to a stimulus. With one drink, whether it’s a beer, a glass of wine or a mixed drink without or without an umbrella, the brain is affected. Adding more continues to slow the brain until it turns off and the drinker passes out.

Unfortunately, alcohol also affects judgment. Not only is reaction time decreased but the ability to understand the consequences is diminished. An intoxicated person cannot make an informed decision and that’s where the sadness occurs. Most people don’t go to a bar, restaurant or friend’s house with the intention of getting drunk and driving home. But by driving to a place the presumption should be that the person is going to want to drive home. It may be up friends, family or the waiter/bartender to decide that enough is enough and driving is not permitted. Yet it seems that it’s almost a badge of honor to say that one made it home safely the night before.

If it were only the drunk driver that would be is at risk for being hurt. Unfortunately, it’s like shooting a gun randomly into the air. The odds are with the shooter and nobody would get hurt, but if somebody is hit, the injuries are devastating.

While it would seem that driving under the influence of alcohol would be a premeditated act and laws would be on the books to deal with it. Perhaps, but not always. Wisconsin, the leader in binge drinking, has the most lenient drunk driving laws in the country. Russ Decker, the state senate majority leader, said this week that upgrading a third DUI offense to a felony crime was too severe. It takes strike five to make it to a felony in Wisconsin, but perhaps Decker’s attitude is swayed because of his drunken driving conviction in 2005 and his relationship with the state tavern league.

It would seem that celebrity athletes who understand their bodies better than most, would understand the effects of the alcohol that they drink. They most certainly have the means to arrange for a driver or a taxi to make it home safely. Sports fans may forgive these trespasses but how sad that they have to.

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