It would be difficult to find a college student who wouldn’t tell you drunk driving is a bad idea.
It would be equally difficult to find a college student who doesn’t know someone who has driven drunk.
Nick Adenhart’s tragic death last week should serve as a political and personal call to action when it comes to counteracting drunk driving — not because Adenhart was a major-league baseball player, but because he was someone’s son, someone’s boyfriend and one of the nearly 18,000 Americans who will die in drunk-driving-related incidents this year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Safety.
Adenhart was killed April 9 in Fullerton, Calif. after being hit by a drunk driver who had a suspended license and a blood alcohol content that was three times the legal limit. The rookie pitcher for the Anaheim Angels had just played his fourth major-league game and was on his way to celebrate when he and two of his friends were hit by another car.
According to the California Highway Patrol, nearly 1,500 people in California alone died from automobile accidents involving alcohol in 2007. Additionally, the AAA Auto Club reports that that about one in every 11 drivers admits to having operated a motor vehicle even when they believed their blood alcohol level to be over the legal limit.
There are a myriad of ways to approach this massive problem: stricter law enforcement and sobriety checkpoints; broader discussion on the causes of alcoholism; intensified alcohol education programs; adjustments to current driving ages and drinking ages.
In California, Assemblyman Mike Feur (D-West Hollywood) recently proposed legislation that would create a pilot project in four counties requiring ignition interlock devices on any vehicle owned or operated by a person convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). The device, meant to curb the problem of repeat alcohol-related vehicular offenses, would require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer and register under the legal blood alcohol level before allowing the car to start.
Ultimately, some combination of these methods will likely be the solution to the outrageous rates of alcohol-related vehicular deaths in the U.S. But until actual changes are enacted at the federal or state levels, each of us as college students — perhaps especially — must take responsibility for our own actions and help our friends and loved ones in making good decisions as well.
This might mean letting someone sleep on your couch. It might mean picking up a friend who shouldn’t drive him or herself. It might mean holding back laughter when someone tells a story about how they were so hammered and drove home. This might mean letting go of frustrations aimed at law enforcement officials and agencies and accepting that while sobriety checkpoints may be a hassle and getting pulled over might be a drag, police play a key role when it comes to reducing DUI fatalities.
As a generation raised with messages from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, on D.A.R.E campaigns and “drink responsibly” catchphrases, it can be easy to find ourselves jaded and neglectful of our power to transform cultural norms. But we are at the forefront of this fight. As individuals, and even more as a community, we have the ability to not only spawn a culture hostile to the long-accepted practice of drinking and driving, but also to replace that with a culture that embraces alternative means of transportation and practices sensible drinking habits.
Adenhart’s death was a tragedy and unfortunately won’t be the last of its kind. But with consistent vigilance and political encouragement we can — and absolutely must — build a society where drunk-driving fatalities are anomalies, not norms.