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As anyone who has ever been injured or lost a family member or friend to a drunk driver knows, even one person operating a vehicle while intoxicated is one too many. There are far too many “real” accidents out there already for law enforcement officers, victims, and regular people to deal without tacking on something like drunk driving that is completely preventable. What does that mean? That the only reason it keeps occurring – and people keep suffering – is because we let it.

In 2011, the number of people killed by drunk drivers in the United States fell below 10,000 for the first time ever. Not surprisingly, MADD – one of the organizations leading the fight against driving while intoxicated – celebrated the news and even tooted their own horn a bit, reminding the public that driving fatalities involving drunkenness have gone down by more than a quarter since they launched a new campaign in 2006.

MADD’s feat is an incredible one and should absolutely be applauded, but it’s also important to note how many deaths still occurred that year. Yes, it was below 10,000. How far below? 9,878 people died. Because someone foolish decided that they were fine to get behind the wheel of what’s essentially a two-ton missile after tossing a few cold ones back.

It makes you wonder if enough is really being done and what else we might try. Already there are high fines, criminal records, and driving privileges at stake, but maybe the penalties still aren’t high enough. Maybe, like Russia, we should start issuing century-long driving “suspensions” to violators. According to police there, most people hit with what’s essentially a ban just sell their cars and stop driving. Would that work in America? Would it work on you?

Americans Love Driving Too Much… Right?

DWI Lawyer

The U.S. as a whole is known as a nation of drivers and car lovers. Getting your first car represents freedom, autonomy, the open road. And as police officers all over the country will tell you, suspending someone’s license often doesn’t stop them from driving.

But today that “open road” isn’t quite so open, with the average driver in the U.S. spending almost an entire work week in traffic each year. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why the Federal Highway Administration’s most recent report continues to show people driving less – despite the economic recovery. Maybe we’re just not as into our cars as we used to be.

If this trend continues, perhaps more people will honor their suspensions. This would certainly help with the problem of repeat offenders, but there are still plenty of people out there who find themselves playing a role in the tragedy even if they’ve never gotten pulled over for drunk driving before. To truly end intoxicated driving, we need to continue the cultural shift that MADD began more than 30 years ago.

What’s the Next Step to Change the Culture?

DUI Lawyers

Stronger laws don’t change everything, but they certainly made a difference in Vancouver, where a new law has halved the number of drunk driving fatalities.

Six years ago, Canada had drunk driving laws that were similar to the United States, including a .08 blood alcohol limit. But when a woman hit and killed their 4-year-old after having three glasses of wine, one Canadian couple decided that wasn’t enough. They went public with their story, continually lobbied lawmakers, and eventually got them both to strengthen existing laws and also make it a crime to drive even with a .05 BAC.

How does this change the culture? Because they were able to convince lawmakers to lower the legal blood alcohol limit by showing that any amount of alcohol impairs reflexes. On top of this, a high-profile campaign was launched not just to let people know about the law, but explain it and convince them that it would be enforced.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. Maybe people are driving less, and enacting harsher penalties will certainly act as a deterrent, but to stop individuals from drinking and driving the country needs a bit of a makeover.Part of the reason that many people get behind the wheel after drinking is because they had to drive to get to the bar. So why not make things more local?

Parent groups may rebel at the idea of corner pubs, but if more people were able to simply walk to the bar and walk home, fewer children would have to worry about drunk drivers. This is a solution that should please restaurant and bar owners, too, because they won’t have to worry about losing significant business. And the vast majority of people would be happy to walk if the distance was reasonable. After all, most people aren’t driving drunk because they want to, but because they think they can. But if they’re walking before they get drunk, that won’t be an option.

About the Author:

Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.

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