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Drunk driving in America

Want to stump your friends with a bit of drunk driving trivia? Toss this out the next time you're quaffing a few cold ones at the corner bar: What holiday nets the most arrests for impaired driving? Most will guess New Year's Eve, St. Paddy's Day or the 4th of July. But they will be wrong, as it is the combined Thanksgiving holiday weekend that fills up America's drunk tanks the fastest.

To understand more about the problem of drunk driving, it's a good idea to consult someone well-versed in the subject. In this case, it is Barron Lerner, Columbia University professor and the author of One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900.

While Lerner concedes that the problem has decreased dramatically since 1982, the year that 26,173 people lost their lives in collisions involving alcohol, his view is that the laws need to be far stricter. The fact that the number of people who were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2009 dropped to 12,744 does not seem to faze him.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was a turning point

Founded in 1980 by a grieving California mom whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, this organization has been relentless in its demonization of those who drink and drive, forcing states to pass more stringent laws and impose harsher punishments against those found guilty of drunk driving.

According to Lerner, between 1980 and 1985, approximately 700 additional drunk driving laws were enacted all over the country, with MADD spearheading most of the efforts. Critics claim that MADD members are modern-day prohibitionists who vilify all alcohol usage. There certainly are legitimate cases where people have had their lives turned upside down after getting caught up in roadblocks and checkpoints and been charged with drunk driving after only having one or two drinks.

Is there a typical profile of a drunk driver?

The majority of drunk drivers, or 75 percent, are men age 21-35. Most are binge drinkers with high blood alcohol levels. This group also causes most of the deaths from alcohol-related crashes. Lerner states that the remaining 25 percent are women and unlucky individuals who don't normally drink to excess but get caught up in a checkpoint on a night when they just left a party or bar after consuming alcohol.

Of course, to anyone facing a criminal conviction for impaired driving, statistics are of little comfort. What matters is their own personal circumstances, and the defense they can present to offset the prosecution's allegations against them.

This Thanksgiving weekend, don't become a statistic. Designate a non-drinking friend as driver for the night's festivities or take a Lyft or Uber home. But if you do get caught in a checkpoint, remember to exercise your constitutional rights against self-incrimination and to remain silent until you can speak to your criminal defense attorney.

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