It’s up to us to match the resolve of lawmakers in keeping roads safe
By Jennifer Hadley 01/09/2013
T his year I was fortunate to spend the Christmas holiday with my boyfriend’s family in San Diego. Luck was also on my side during the hour-long drive to one of his extended family member’s house for Christmas Eve. Finally, the opportunity for me to dazzle his kin with my unfailing creativity presented itself! I leapt at the opportunity to pose what I surmised was a really profound question.
“Have any of you made any New Year’s resolutions?” Naturally, they were rendered speechless by the sheer ingenuity of the question, and silence fell upon the car. His sister finally took pity on me though, and responded, “Do better.”
Although my attempt to exercise complex conversation skills had flopped, her response got me to thinking. “Do better” is an admirable resolution, even if a little vague. All the same, it got the wheels in my pinhead spinning in terms of a topic for my first Wheels column of 2013. I returned from San Diego and sat down to figure out how we can do better when it comes to staying safe on the road this year.
I took about three seconds to determine that we can certainly do better when it comes to driving sober. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Web site, from Dec. 14-16, 456 arrests were made for DUI in LA County. That number is down from the same period in 2011, when 598 arrests were made, but that is still more than six arrests per hour for driving under the influence. That sucks.
Fortunately, lawmakers agree that we need to do better and, for their part, continue looking for new ways to deter us from making such a dangerous decision. By way of example, in 2010 the mandatory ignition interlock device (IID) pilot program went into effect in Los Angeles County, which requires anyone convicted of a DUI after July 1, 2010, to have a device wired to the vehicle’s ignition that requires a breath sample from the driver before the engine will start. The program will remain in effect through 2015. It’s a start.
Starting our cars (let alone explaining the fancy contraption to a date, colleague, the valet or whomever else may get in the car) isn’t keeping people from driving while impaired. Moreover, ignition interlock devices don’t detect the presence of drugs other than alcohol in the system. That’s a problem. Although fatalities related to driving under the influence of alcohol have declined over the last decade, fatalities from driving under the influence of drugs have risen.
As such, as of New Year’s Day, a new law went into effect in an effort to discourage drivers from getting high and then getting behind the wheel. Assembly Bill 2020 was written by Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Alamo) and denies drivers arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs the option of a urine test. Designed to help law enforcement determine the level of drug intoxication of DUI suspects by relying on blood tests instead of urine tests, the new law is projected to save time and money in court costs.
According to Scott Thorpe, chief executive officer of the California District Attorneys Association, “Compared to blood testing, the urine test is an unreliable measure of drug intoxication. AB 2020 will help ensure that persons who drive under the influence of drugs are punished while protecting innocent drivers from conviction based on an inaccurate test.”
I’ve got to tip my hat to lawmakers for at least trying to get us to do better when it comes to staying safe on the roads. But there’s only so much they can do. Unless we commit to matching their collective resolve as individuals — using taxis, designating a sober driver or perhaps just forgoing drugs altogether — we won’t stand a chance of doing better in 2013. And we need to do better.
Incidentally, my boyfriend volunteered to be the designated driver for the ride home on Christmas Eve so his family could enjoy wine with dinner. I volunteered to stay sober with him. Much to my delight, my stupid, boring question earlier in the evening seemed positively brilliant in light of some of the wine-influenced questions posed on the ride home.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org.