Ask the Experts

Defeating Drunk Driving

I know that drunk driving is a terrible thing to do, and it’s something I would never, ever do myself. For a long time, I assumed that pretty much everyone agreed on that–in fact, I wondered how it was even still a problem. But sometimes when I speak to older folks (even some within my own family), I’m surprised by how accepting they seem to be about the idea of drunk driving.

That may seem depressing, but it actually got me thinking kind of optimistically. If younger people are more serious about preventing drunk driving, we must be headed to a better, safer future in that area, right? So I thought I’d ask the experts: in general, how are we doing in the battle against drunk driving?

Drunk driving is a serious thing indeed–and, unfortunately, it’s still very much a problem in the United States. Drunk driving kills over 10,000 people a year and accounts for 29 percent of all traffic deaths in the US. Those sorts of statistics should be enough to make anyone stop driving drunk, but the sad truth is that many still do: 28.7 million people admitted to driving drunk in 2013.

Still, it would be wrong to ignore how far we’ve come. As recently as a few decades ago, American drunk driving laws were a vague hodgepodge of state regulations, and little was done to educate the population about the dangers of drunk driving. It was advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that began to change the situation through activism. They lobbied for tougher laws, helped victims, and raised awareness–and, in fact, they still do all of those things. In 1982, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states lower their legal limits to .08; between 1983 and 2004, every state did so. The NTSB has since recommended .05 as a new limit. In 1984, the United States raised its drinking age to 21. These days, says management at Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlet of Lawrenceville, the drinking age is something that both the government and retailers take very, very seriously.

Tougher laws can mean more arrests for drunk driving, and increased awareness may contribute to more drunk drivers recognizing their mistake and admitting it to pollsters. But one way to measure the success of the movement is look at accidents and fatalities. Drunk driving fatalities are down an incredible 51 percent since 1982 (the year the NTSB recommended .08 as the legal limit). And while the auto team at Ford of Northampton caution that car safety features have improved significantly over the decades, it’s worth noting that traffic fatalities in general are only down 20 percent over that same period, proving that progress is being made in the area of drunk driving specifically.

There is still much to be done–any amount of drunk driving is too much. Still, as we move forward, it’s good to know that our efforts do make a difference.

“There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.” — Ovid

Lissette Harwood is a Former Content Director at District Confidential.