Why you should care
Thirty percent of us will be involved in an alcohol-related collision at some point, and even more of us will make the choice to drive drunk.
Over 30 million Americans, or 15 percent of all drivers, admit to having driven while intoxicated in the past year. One quarter of college students have driven drunk in the past month. These are startling figures, especially when every 90 seconds someone is injured in a drunk-driving crash, and every 40 minutes someone is killed by a drunk driver.
Studies suggest that the main reason so many of us get behind the wheel after drinking is because so few drunk drivers get caught or face significant punishment. A first-time drunk-driving offender has typically driven drunk more than 80 times before getting arrested, and there is only one arrest in America for every 27,000 miles that are driven while drunk — meaning you can expect to drive drunk across the country and back four times before the music stops.
There is only one arrest in America for every 27,000 miles that are driven while drunk.
Seem out of whack? A tough New York prosecutor thinks so, and she has a recommendation. Nassau County D.A. Kathleen Rice argues that after 30 years of Mothers Against Drunk Driving commercials and television reports, we all know that driving drunk can kill someone. If we do it, then Rice says it shouldn’t be called an “accident” if we harm others — it’s more like recklessly firing a gun in a crowded place. The solution? Rice and other intrepid prosecutors across the country are taking a bolder tack and throwing the book at drivers responsible for DUI deaths.
Martin Heidgen, a 24-year-old insurance salesman who had been drinking with friends, drove his pickup truck the wrong way down a Long Island parkway, decapitating 7-year-old Katie Flynn as she rode home from a wedding with her family. Rice charged Heidgen not with manslaughter but with murder by depraved indifference. The jury agreed that Heidgen had acted so recklessly that others were likely to die and convicted him of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 18 years to life.
Sound extreme? Or not harsh enough? Should we charge any driver caught drunk behind the wheel with attempted murder? Or do such prosecutions only water down murder, turning our sons and daughters into potential murderers for colossally stupid mistakes they made while under the influence? And what about accidents involving sleep-deprived drivers or drivers using cell phones, which studies suggest can be just as impairing as alcohol?
We asked a half dozen people what they thought: